Cousin Josh Goes Off on Food Stamps

By Anders Carlson-Wee

Featured art: ‘The Thirty-Six Star Flag of the United States of America’ by an unknown artist

—in memory of Scott Christopher Maxwell
1961–2007

First thing is, I got as much right to get my foodstamps
as the next man. Second thing is, what I make of em
is my own Han Solo. State aint got no right
comin around sniffin halfway up my ass, tryin to catch
some little whiff of a goddamn infringement.
If I wanna fetch my breakfast with em, fine,
let a cowboy fry his bacon. If I wanna sell em for cash
or trade em for dope, that’s my own Han Solo.
You think I’m gettin rich outta this?
You think I’m puttin some greenbacks away someplace?
Saint me somebody if I’m flush in more than bellybutton lint.
And anyways I’m only sellin em to veterans.
That’s the third thing. A lotta vets can’t even get
no foodstamps, and you mind tellin me why?


You think them boys went off and lost a leg
in Iraq or some other ass crack of the planet
just to come back home to trade me a dime-sack
and some percocet? What? So they can hobble
their broke ass down to Deals Only and garner themselves
with nothin but a stone cold bite of somethin to eat?
You tell me. Me, I don’t even wanna guess.
And the other thing is, what’s the difference
if I got two-three a them food cards?
Who am I hurtin? I’m askin you––who am I hurtin?
And I know right off what you’re gonna lay on me.
You think I’m reachin in and stealin them tax dollars
right out your own privately owned ass crack.
But the thing is, I aint got your goddamn tax dollars.
Where you think all them sorry ass one-legged vets
is comin back from? Disneyland?
War aint the Lord’s plan, I can tell you that much.
Course, neither is foodstamps. Lord’s got two hands
and he aint askin for handouts with neither of em.
And you can bet your whole hard-on
he aint givin em away neither. That’s why I stopped
prayin. Lord aint givin and Lord aint takin.
Lord’s reachin out same way a tree reaches.
Real slow and easy. Sorta callin you in
without callin, cept maybe with the wind.
And your job’s as simple as goin to him, cause you’re lost
and you know it. And that’s the same shake
them vets was expectin to get when they come back
one-legged, but they didn’t get that, did they?
No they didn’t. Got percocet. And they’ll be dosin that shit
till the day they’re dead. What’s that old sayin?
Send me home in my casket. Well, tell you what,
the minute I’ve gone and dropped off dead
and been laid to rest, you got my god’s honest say-so
to bust open my casket and stick a straw
up my ass and suck and see if you find any flavors
that taste just even a little bit like your goddamn tax dollars.


Anders Carlson-Wee is the author of The Low Passions (W.W. Norton, 2019), a New York Public Library Book Group Selection. His work appears in The Paris Review, BuzzFeed, Ploughshares, Virginia Quarterly Review, and many other publications. The recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, he is the winner of the 2017 Poetry International Prize. Anders holds an MFA from Vanderbilt University and is represented by Massie & McQuilkin Literary Agents. http://www.anderscarlsonwee.com

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