To Another Yoke-and-Harness Incentive Plan
When they’ve set the ground against you,
tripping your feet,
and hoarded the air so you can’t catch a breath
when they’ve hidden tomorrow, leaving you
no way out of today,
and tossed you their day-old bread
you begin to understand what they mean
When you can’t find the handle to a door
they breeze through, you’re incentivised.
When you don’t know the magic words
that bring them luck, you’re incentivised.
You’re incentivised every morning
your kids look at you like you’re just a wall
useless to keep out noise and cold and fear.
You’re incentivised when your name sounds
like a curse thrown at a dog,
when shame haunts your shadow,
when you feel like a voodoo doll goaded by pins.
You hear it like the constant voice of the city—
you’re no good you’re no good you’re no good—
until you’re incentivised enough to bust loose,
except that too plays into their hands.
Darrell Petska’s career as an editor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison spanned more than 30 years. Before academia he worked as a psychiatric technician/caseworker and nursing home evaluator. His poetry has appeared in The Missing Slate, About Place Journal, Poetry24, HEArt Online, Blast Furnace, The New Verse News and elsewhere.