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A Poverty Birth, Life and Eventual Death

Updated on April 6, 2014
To pick cotton was like going to Heaven
To pick cotton was like going to Heaven

What did you say, stranger?

what's it like to be poor? Excuse me while I laugh. Ahhh, what's it like to be poor? First, stranger, tell me what "poor" means to you?

No loaf bread! Are you pulling my leg? Naw, man, you do not know what being poor is. Yes, you are not only a liar, but a fool to come into a place you never been and ask somebody you never seen a stupid question like that.

Singing blues with a rotten pine wall for an audience
Singing blues with a rotten pine wall for an audience
A poor man's mansion
A poor man's mansion
Empty dump even when we lived in it
Empty dump even when we lived in it
Picking cotton was the only thing we knew
Picking cotton was the only thing we knew
Hot, wet, didn't matter. We labored
Hot, wet, didn't matter. We labored

Well, stranger, I don't rightly know

where I is to start. Poor, yeah. What is it like to be poor, that was yore question. Truthfully, I can't tells you. You see, I'm not a school-educated man. I am barely a man from the background I have got on my back. I carry it with me from daylight to sundown. Poor. Oh, sorry. You white people call it "poverty," but to me, ain't no difference. Poor is poor. Simple, right?

Poor is never living, but always dying whether you's in a cotton field or in your slat-bottom bed. Dying and poor are relative kin. Didn't you know that, stranger?

The trick is, when you poor, you have to make believe like you don't think right and you can't tell the difference in dirt and cloth. It is that simple. But we called it survival. Not being poor. Oh, if some of us, and me too, wuz a little poor, hey, we would have been very well off.

You see? They'ze different levels of poor. Furst there's a dirt-poor coming from ye mama. But you don't know it, so ye are alright. Then ye begins to grow some, work some, and get yeself some learning either from ye folks or some government-paid teacher who tells ye that thangs will be fine atter a while. Shoot! I use to lie as good as muh teacher. So I up and quit that devil[s den so I'ze could get meself some pocket money. You do know what pocket money is?

Dis is what muh bedroom wuz like
Dis is what muh bedroom wuz like

Okay, mister. Enuff of me-a talking

allow me to bend your ear whilst I try to get it in your head what being poor is. Sit yeself down in that cane-bottom chair there by the pot belly and listen. All ye have to do is listen.

For me, being poor was . . .

  • Grasping for a crust o' bread that weren't there, but mama couldn't help it. She just done with what papa give to her and that wuz not much.
  • Listenin' to you baby brothers 'n sisters wheeze in the night fearin' the next breath was it. It was cold, mister, in them deep-freezers the white bosses made us stay in. Why would I treat my mule that way when he's making my livin' fer me?
  • Beatin' the sun up to feed what stock we had that we weren't paying a lifetime debt on. Then living on empty hope of having a real breakfast, not just clabbering cow's milk and some left-over biscuits that mama could have eat, but she wuzn't 'bout to see us starve and be put in the black dirt.
  • Walkin' year 'round with yo bear feet to the woods 'n fields to pick another hundred pound of "white man's gold," and maybe at month's end, take yeself home about a quarter if the boss was in a good mood.
  • When you poor, all of you is equal to each other in the fields. They wuzn't no fussin' about one of us bein' any better n' the next folk in the next row.
  • Being poor is sneakin' a bite of yellow corn when it comes out because yo stomach is gnawing through yo back pocket.
  • Poor is never having kinfolk or proper company cuz yo shack is nuthin' but a few rusty nails, some tin, and rotten pine lumber. Do you kinda understand me?
  • Being poor is never dreamin,' or havin' the least bit o' hope because at the end of the fall, somebody's always there to take what ye worked your backside off for.
  • Poor is just like God. He iz no respecter of people, and neither is poor. He don't care what color ye is gest as long as he kin keep you lapping up his slop at life's end.

And that, stranger, is a bit of what it's like to be poor

"and I will be waiting on you at the end of your last row."


Although places in this hub might be considered rough, and I won't argue with you, but the work of all the poor souls with nothing but their rags on to spend daylight until dark picking cotton as if their lives depended on it.

For many times it was.

This piece is to honor all of you whose labor in the cotton fields was never recognized or noted.



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    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 3 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Thank YOU both, Jodah and my Dear Catgypsy,

      This one was tough to write. My mother told me that when she was a little girl that the country was in the Great Depression and there were white and black men and women begging to work on your property or in your home for just a meal for pay.

      Sad times. But it made her the strongest woman I have ever known. What I fear is that if something isn't done to our economy and the world economy, we are headed down that same road.

      Thanks again to both of you.



    • catgypsy profile image

      catgypsy 3 years ago from the South

      Great hub Kenneth.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 3 years ago from Queensland Australia

      A great tribute Kenneth, to the slaves of the cotton fields, and well written in the appropriate language. It is sure 'nuff true dat none of us knows what begin' poor is like for real. Voted up.