E.F. Schraeder

Government Cheese

I come from a long line of loud dressers, masters of
second-hand cool reinvention in paisley shirts,
checked sweaters, and striped pants.

So if it’s true that we, my family and I, weren’t poor
it’s in the same way that later I wasn’t homeless.
It’s a matter of surface attention, directed awareness.

I slipped between friendly couches, a queer kid
without a home. I learned denial like that
from Mom. She emptied illusions in her free time:

poured samples into larger shampoo bottles, softened
soap shavings with water into batches of liquid
cleanser to rinse away our hidden poverty.

I knew who I was, backpack slung over one arm
clomping out of the house. We are two versions of a story
that end the same. Even alienated, I am half of her.

I learned to need less, become my own brand.
Half of what we are is accident, luck. The other, creativity.
To have enough of everything, we practiced frugality:

laughed at the gooey, artery clogging, bright yellow brick
we nibbled with crackers. Maybe ironically,
but we ate it.

E.F. Schraeder creative work has appeared in Haz Mat Review, On the Issues, The Kennedy Curse, Kicked Out, Blue Collar Review, Corvus Magazine, and other anthologies and journals. Her poetry chapbook, The Hunger Tree, was released in 2013 from Finishing Line Press. She holds an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in the humanities and wears a questionable amount of paisley.