“Getting By” by Erika Jeffers

Image courtesy of Lara604. Shared via a Creative Commons license.

Getting By

Televisions in the dining room, large boxes
That line the entryway. She says,

——–His stuff is in there from when he was laid off, his desk stuff.

But he was laid off years ago and has since
Been hired and let go several more times.
The toilets do not work. And the back door
Does not close, it only locks and opens.
The leather sofas are split raw.
In the bedrooms, holes are beginning to spread
In the molding. I worry outside creatures will
Find a home in the walls. And instead
Of giving away, new is added on top.
A new mattress is placed on the old one,
Making the bed unreasonably high.
I would have loved this as a child, jumping
As tall as I could to touch the ceiling.
She lives now accustomed to things, old things,
Things that do not work.
I’ve learned to erase this type
Of living from my head,
To replace what is broken and
Unusable. But she is comfortable
With broken things and getting by.


You would never know it was cracked
In several different places. The base jagged
From being glued back together again,
Again. We can’t throw things away.
The lamp has traveled with us
In and out all of the houses.
From your side on the nightstand
To his side on the nightstand
To my first apartment. And back, again,
Inside your home. This time
To the floor in front of a window
That did allow for light,
Light as generous as second helpings
As generous as a slap to the mouth.


When we talk, we talk about other people’s family.
Or your garden. Or rather, Mrs. Smith’s garden
In the house below ours. You tell me,

——–I am not someone who can use my hands to make things grow.

We talk about cousins and aunts and friends
From church. All you know are women
Who don’t leave. I know their story,
I don’t know yours.
You believe you are a horrible person
for things done in the past. I won’t ask.
We think we want to know our mothers, we don’t.
We’re scared to find we have retraced steps, made their mistakes,
Planted gardens of failed tomatoes and peppers, again,
In our own yards. Scared to find we worried about marrying
Our fathers, we instead became our mothers.


Erika Jeffers is a poet and book reviewer whose writing has appeared in Kweli, Callaloo, sx salon, Wasafiri, and Adrienne. She is currently at work on her first chapbook collection.