“Credit” by James Washington Jr.

James Washington Jr.


As son
& mother.
State surplus
peanut butter, 
cheese, & smiles
for Mr. Sullivan’s
monthly inspection
to certify our poverty.
Our couch
couldn’t stand
by itself,
all lopsided on
prosthetic legs:
The Yellow Pages,
cast iron fry pan,
cushions ravished
raw to cotton entrails.
Mr. Sullivan
made it look hard, 
whether we even
needed a cheap
new sofa, while I,
taught to please,
his same-same tie, 
offered him water,
respectful, “Sir.”
Mother of a million
thanks, thespian.
& Mr. Sullivan
nodded fedora,
as if high courtesy.
You’re a credit to your race!
he said to me,
& decades later,
still stuck in my throat,
thicker even than
bitter government
peanut butter & cheese.

from Prompt Poem of the Month
April 2024


Prompt: Write a poem with a single word as the title, in which
our understanding of that word shifts by the end of the poem.

Note from the series editor, Katie Dozier: “The brilliant economy of language in ‘Credit’ helps this poem knock on our door with authenticity. James further weaves us into the narrative with bold images, such as the upside down Yellow Pages and the cotton entrails of the cushions. When the dialogue hits and is allowed to hang in the air without much exposition, we too feel the slap, which reverberates with the transformative title.”

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