“In Defense of Those Who Harbor Terrible Ideas at Tax Time” by Alison Luterman

Alison Luterman


It must have seemed like a good idea at the time.
Like so many others. Sleeping with that guy.
Not checking the address. Letting him put it in
without a condom just the once. Who hasn’t done
all that and worse, is what I was thinking,
driving to H&R Block to get my taxes done
and listening to the radio where everyone keeps talking about
the young black gay actor who orchestrated
a fake hate crime against himself.
It must have seemed like such a good idea to him
at the time, I think, clutching to my chest
the scattered bits of our financial life—
receipts and pay stubs, the record of all I’ve spent
on poetry contests and that workshop
on musical theater—enough
to buy a hot tub, a cheap used one, anyway,
on Craigslist—and that might
or might not be a disaster, too, you never know.
I’ve booked an appointment
with the nicest CPA in the world—Dennis—
who says to me, “You’re not a cookie-cutter person.
Don’t be ashamed of your life.” Really, he should be a therapist
instead of an accountant, but I hope he stays at this job forever,
smoothing out my crumpled 1099s, recording
the five hundred dollars I made coaching
for Poetry Out Loud, the thousand
from that one contest I did win, and then all the bills
when our old home’s ancient plumbing gave up the ghost.
It’s more than I can face head-on, this evidence
of how we live and earn and spend and waste
our lives, and I heard that the young man, an actor, staged the crime
against himself because he felt he wasn’t being paid enough—
though I bet he was paid more than a poet—
well, who isn’t? And who, in the end, doesn’t feel
attention must be paid? Although few would go
to such lengths to get it. I’ve had my share
of Bad Ideas, God knows, and all of them seemed Good to me
at the time, and so have you, I bet, and so has everyone.
It’s the human condition, after all, to be assailed by a million thoughts
a day, most of them insane—I remember I once thought
of becoming a dominatrix, for example—that didn’t last long,
then I thought maybe I’d write a play
about a woman who becomes a dominatrix
in late middle age, to pay the bills—and well,
you see where all this is heading.
I have to forgive this young man his terrible
idea, I have to because, in my own way, I’ve been him.
And while we’re at it all those others
whose freakazoid fancies must have seemed brilliant
to them for a minute, the way all our eurekas do at three a.m.—
gleaming like fool’s gold … haven’t we all
chased them like magical butterflies
through the meadowlands of imagination,
only to end up empty-handed and chagrined,
and far from home?

from Poets Respond
February 24, 2019


Alison Luterman: “Like everyone I’ve been hearing a lot about Jussie Smollett, the actor on Empire, who appears to have (badly) stage-managed a fake hate crime against himself in a misguided bid to get a higher salary. I’ve heard him mocked and condemned for this, and he’s facing criminal charges, but as a creative person myself I thought of all the misguided just plain bad ideas I’ve had over the years, and how grateful I am that no one can see inside my head which continues to hatch hare-brained schemes which will hopefully remain confined to the page.” (web)

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