Debt of Blood

My name is Nila Marse
I may be older’n dirt and twice as ugly
But I ain’t never owed nobody nothin’

‘at’s right, I been worked like a mule all my life
bustin’ my ass and payin’ dues to where I’m bled drier than a salt box
I raised eight brothers and sisters with no mama
and a no ‘count daddy
Hell, he was worse than no daddy at all

I been workin’ thirty years at the chicken plant
my fingers all hobbled up
my lungs so full of dust from ground up chicken bones
every time I cough, feathers fly outta my mouth

and I still ain’t stopped workin’ for Veon and the kids
him another no ‘count drunk
useless as tits on a boar-hog

no sir, I don’t owe nobody nothin’
looks to me like somebody owes me
somebody owes me a goddamn life

Sometimes I think about how much I put out for everybody
and how I never get a lick of respect, a raise
or even a goddamn thank you, ma’am
I think about it while I’m guttin’ chickens on the eviscerating line
I think about it every time some lil ole sugar tit gets light duty
cuz the boss likes the way she wiggles her ass

and whenever Veon comes at me in the middle of the night
and shoves his belchin’, beer stinkin’ body into me
I don’t anymore dream of some young, handsome, god-fearin’ farmer
All’s I can think about is sleep
or murder

Then there’s other times
like when I’m up to my elbows in the trailer’s busted toilet
the whole mess stinkin’ till hell won’t have it
I wonder if the ocean is really as pretty like it looks in the magazines
if the flower on a cactus smells sweet
I wonder if I’ll ever get just one goddamn day of happiness before I die

Well, I worked all my days
suffered through them long nights
and prayed on my knees every morning
and when that day never did come
I lost the faith
Now I’m bitter like an old root

Hell, I could crack a walnut shell between my teeth without even flinchin’
I’ve took to slappin’ my growed-up kids
cussin’ the boss when his back’s turned
and puttin’ saltpeter in Veon’s coffee
but nothing’s changed
‘cept we all got meaner

Now my mind’s like on fire with hate
my job, my man—hell, even my kids
leeches all of ’em
suckin’ the life out of me

Well, Nila, I says to nobody in particular
since nobody pays me no mind anyway
well, I says
there ain’t a hell of a lot left to suck, people
my marrow’s done tapped out
bones hollow
‘fore long, there won’t even be blood a’crawlin’ through my veins

but I tell you what
for all my hatred
I don’t blame no earthly creature for my misery
so much as I hold God responsible
for giving me such a shitty life

and when I think about it like that
I know it’s God what owes me
God owes me that debt of blood

Nila don’t owe nobody nothin’


© Lisa Martinovic

Debt of Blood appears in the anthology The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry