Literary Hook: Why we need to stay positive and hopeful despite obstacles

By Christine Swanberg

Author and Poet

This poem was written at Centrum Center for the Arts, Port Townsend, Wash., in January of 2009. At that time, many of us were ecstatic and hopeful about the good changes we would see in our country after a difficult 2008. Now, just a few months later, it seems President Barack Obama has had obstacles of biblical proportions, not unlike Job. I hope those of us who voted for him will keep the faith and stay positive and hopeful.


Watching the stock market go bipolar,

I resurrected soaps pilfered from various hotels:

small, fragrant bars of avocado, lemon,

oatmeal, and gardenia.

The recession was upon us; time to use the soap.

Rubbing the waxy nub of talon down to nothing,

I broke out in a rash

and had to buy an expensive prescription.

Watching our retirement savings dip

into a bottomless well, I bought cheap cat food,

cheaper litter, and macaroni and cheese for $.39.

The cats cooperated for exactly one day,

then succumbed to clinical depression.

I gave in. They ate Fancy Feast.

We ate macaroni and cheese.

I returned to substitute teaching,

cut coupons diligently, cancelled trips

and acupuncture, drove less,

set the winter thermostat at 69 degrees,

and the summer thermostat at 79,

bought crappy coffee, ignored my hair,

skipped Weight Watchers, recycled my wardrobe,

and did only huge loads of laundry, cold cycle.

The coffee initiated gastritis.

I gained 10 pounds.

The clothes lost their zesty colors.

Gas prices climbed Mount Everest,

and an avalanche of inflation ate any savings

our meager sacrifices may have made.

There was no end to the ironies:

The Hillary engine threw a rod.

John McCain morphed into an old, angry white man,

devoured by a barracuda named Sarah Palin.

Barack Obama became president-elect.

The stock market remains bipolar

though bail-outs swing from trees

like howler monkeys. Yes, it’s a crazy time

in the jungle. 2008 is over.

Last night, I dreamed of an organ-grinder

monkey and woke wearing a grin.

Today, I scheduled acupuncture,

went to Weight Watchers,

bought delicious coffee

and lavender soap from Provence.

I have learned this: Life is too short

for bad soap and coffee. Never cancel

anything that makes you feel better.

And, if a black man can become president

of the United States of America,

you may as well swing toward hope.

First published in Clark Street Review.

Christine Swanberg is a local author and poet who has written several books of poetry and formerly wrote a column called “The Writer’s Garret” for this newspaper.

From the October 14-20, 2009 issue

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