American Life in Poetry: Column 260


These days are brim full of bad news about our economy—businesses closing, people losing their houses, their jobs. If there’s any comfort in a situation like this, it’s in the fact that there’s a big community of sufferers. Here’s a poem by Dana Bisignani, who lives in Indiana, that describes what it feels like to sit through a bankruptcy hearing.

Bankruptcy Hearing

They have us corralled
in the basement of the courthouse.
One desk and a row of folding chairs—
just like first grade, our desks facing Teacher
in neat little rows.

wooden benches like pews and red
carpet reserved for those who’ve held out
the longest. No creditors have come to claim us
today. We’re small-time.

This guy from the graveyard shift
stares at his steel-toed boots, nervous hands
in his lap. None of us look each other
in the eye. We steal quick looks—how did you
get here
. . .  

chemo bills, a gambling addiction,
a summer spent unemployed and too many
cash advances to pay the rent.
We examine the pipes that hang
from the ceiling, the scratched tiles on the floor,

the red glow of the exit sign at the end of the hall
so like our other failed escapes:
light of the TV at night,
glass of cheap Merlot beside a lamp,
a stop light on the way out of town.

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2008 by Dana Bisignani and reprinted from Blue Collar Review, Vol. 12, Issue 2, Winter 2008-2009, by permission of Dana Bisignani and the publisher Introduction copyright © 2020 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.