Dollar Poems

While biking towards downtown San Francisco with my friend Jody, I suddenly and anxiously realized the possible repercussions of what I was about to do. I, along with Jody, had just committed a federal crime capable of imprisoning us for up to 6 months and now I wondered if what we were about to do could be considered trespassing as well. We were well on our way to the financial epicenter of the affluent city of which we are a part and I was having slight twinges of hesitancy about continuing onward. While biking closer I imagined people would see what we were doing and report us to the police or simply take down our propaganda for personal gain. I couldn’t seem to imagine our propaganda standing on its own for very long; it was simply too valuable.

But, despite my slight anxiety and skepticism, we parked our bikes and approached the stone columns and porticos of the major financial institutions of our time and…

We began tagging all sorts of signs and symbols of our affluent hub: the cultural advertisements telling us to define ourselves by the specific name brands we should wear, the massive structural stone pillars that supported our greedy financial institutions, the statues remembering our self-made men who represent economic success and American exceptionalism, the advertisements preying on the poor with low-grade food and alluring promises of easy money, and general landmarks amidst a city center bent on the procuration of money.

It had started off as a long-awaited dream by Jody that had been yearning to be actualized. We, being part of a book club together, had grown tired of merely talking about living out a different/set apart life. Instead, Jody suggested, we should try and do something besides sitting around and talking. For too long had I been kept from acting, paralyzed by ideals and perfectionism. So we made an effort to do something. Anything. Jody mentioned his dream from long ago to write convicting, subversive poetry on one and five dollar bills. And that was that. We met a few days later and began defacing our United States’ currency with words imploring others to look at the world (and money) differently. My hope was that someone might find my defaced money, read the poem, and keep it as a thing of beauty. Perhaps someone would find that it is more valuable as a poem than as a dollar bill- aesthetic value beyond economic value. Art beyond the bottom line. Jody’s poems were more inspiring towards direct thought and action and seemed to illustrate a way of life besides (and better than) the American Dream and pursuit of money.

Surprisingly to me, no one paid any attention to us as we wandered around and climbed outside of banks and on statues. We placed our dollar bills in various locations and then watched as dozens, even hundreds of people walked past our poetry flags flapping like Tibetan prayer flags in the wind. No one was looking up to notice. No one was lifting their head to even look higher than six or seven feet in the air. I soon began imagining the implications of an entire culture of people walking around with their heads down, oblivious to things around them. Everyone seems to have retracted into themselves. One nation, no longer indivisible but individual.

As we distributed our dollar-poems we placed them in progressively obvious locations yet only a few people ever noticed. Perhaps out of desperation to see some form of instant gratification, we started taping green arrows on the sidewalk pointing to our dollar-poems. One elderly woman watched us with curiosity from a park bench shooting us a glint of a smile each time we added more arrows and even taped a “$” to the sidewalk with an arrow. Even then we only occasionally heard whispers, “Did you see that? There was money stuck on that sign.” It was always in passing. Only once did I see a woman stop and look for a brief second before moving on.

I remember wondering if the project had been a complete failure or it was just a matter of time before the dollar-poems would be taken down and blown onto the street. In situations like these, however, it is important to trust that God is at work even among the unseen things. I cannot help but give in to hope. I imagine that a few people saw the money. Perhaps it would be the select few who choose to look up from the ground and dare to gaze higher than six feet. Perhaps it planted a seed of imagination in their minds that could grow to break their narrow and all-consuming definition of money- a definition rigidly constructed and enforced to the point of slavery and death by the consumeristic empire. Perhaps they might begin to see things beyond the bottom line.

Or perhaps the wind would simply guide the dollar-poems to those who need the money most.


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