A Poem for Perspective on Wealth and Poverty

I recently rediscovered this poem, and it inspires me to keep looking to Jesus to help me give to the poor, as well as to work towards justice. It was written by a working-class Chilean woman in 1973, shortly after Chile’s president, Salvador Allende, was overthrown. A U.S. missionary translated the work and brought it with her when she was forced to leave Chile. It was published in the July 1985 issue of Sojourners magazine.

I am a woman
I am a woman.
I am a woman born of a woman whose man owned a factory.
I am a woman born of a woman whose man labored in a factory.
I am a woman whose man wore silk suits, who constantly watched his weight.
I am a woman whose man wore tattered clothing, whose heart was constantly strangled by hunger.
I am a woman who watched two babies grow into beautiful children.
I am a woman who watched two babies die because there was no milk.
I am a woman who watched twins grow into popular college students with summers abroad.
I am a woman who watched three children grow, but with bellies stretched from no food.
But then there was a man;
But then there was a man;
And he talked about the peasants getting richer by my family getting poorer.
And he told me of days that would be better, and he made the days better.
We had to eat rice.
We had rice.
We had to eat beans!
We had beans.
My children were no longer given summer visas to Europe.
My children no longer cried themselves to sleep.
And I felt like a peasant.
And I felt like a woman.
A peasant with a dull, hard, unexciting life.
Like a woman with a life that sometimes allowed a song.
And I saw a man.
And I saw a man.
And together we began to plot with the hope of the return to freedom.
I saw his heart begin to beat with the hope of freedom, at last.
Someday, the return to freedom.
Someday, freedom.
And then,
But then,
One day,
One day,
There were planes overhead and guns firing close by.
There were planes overhead and guns firing in the distance.
I gathered my children and went home.
I gathered my children and ran.
And the guns moved farther and farther away.
But the guns moved closer and closer.
And then, they announced that freedom had been restored!
And then they came, young boys really.
They came into my home along with my man.
They came and found my man.
Those men whose money was almost gone –
They found all of the men whose lives were almost their own.
And we all had drinks to celebrate.
And they shot them all.
The most wonderful martinis.
They shot my man.
And then they asked us to dance.
And then they came for me.
Me.
For me, the woman.
And my sisters.
For my sisters.
And then they took us,
Then they took us,
They took us to dinner at a small, private club.
They stripped us of the dignity we had gained.
And they treated us to beef.
And then they raped us.
It was one course after the other.
One after another they came after us.
We nearly burst we were so full.
Lunging, plunging – sisters bleeding, sisters dying.
It was magnificent to be free again!
It was hardly a relief to have survived.
The beans have almost disappeared now.
The beans have disappeared.
The rice – I’ve replaced it with chicken or steak.
The rice, I cannot find it.
And the parties continue night after night to make up for all the time wasted.
And my silent tears are joined once more by the midnight cries of my children.
And I feel like a woman again.
They say, I am a woman.

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2 thoughts on “A Poem for Perspective on Wealth and Poverty

    • FYI, the UN has in fact committed to your idea, to tax the world “based on the proportion of global domestic product.”

      The agreement for a .7% tax on global GNP, to be used for development aid, was passed at the UN General Assembly.

      In 1970.

      Not many countries are meeting this commitment. I’ve heard one calculation that puts the cumulative inflation-adjusted shortfall at USD4.1T. (I think this is in Banerjee and Duflo’s _Poor Economics_.)

      Whether aid to poor countries will really help is controversial. On one side are folks like Jeffrey Sachs (_The End of Poverty_) and his followers, who say poor countries are unable to sustain economic growth because they are in a “poverty trap”: it takes money to make money, but poor countries don’t have the money, so they’re stuck. A one-time aid effort (USD195B/year until 2015) will eliminate all poverty for all time.

      Others, like William Easterly (_White Man’s Burden_) think development aid just causes corruption and prevents the poor from finding their own solutions. They think the best way for rich countries to help is to mind their own business and set up fair trade practices.

      Determining who is right is a huge empirical question fraught with massive evidence problems.

      (Note that both sides draw a distinction between development aid and disaster aid. I don’t know of anyone who is opposed to aid efforts in response to earthquakes, famines, tsunamis, hurricanes, etc.)

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