by James C. Henderson

Debt is like opening your hand to find a black spot
on a dirty scrap of paper, left there
after a desperate handclasp with a blind pirate
who even though he is blind
has found you.
You were always a good lad or lassie
did what you were told
washed for supper, followed the rules
played the hand that was dealt you
even though the cards were lousy
who blamed yourself for your bad luck, who blames
yourself now for the black spot, and hopes every day
to land on Chance or win the lottery
but now that’s over—it’s time to ante up.
The pirates want their treasure back—
and you have no map, believe me you have no map.
You do have options: you could cash in your chips
and quit the game, but you have no chips to cash in.
Or you could ask for new cards
which the pirates won’t give you
because they don’t have to.
Or you could go back to college
to earn an advanced degree and get a better job
except this would only put you deeper into debt
because the pirates run the schools
and there are no better jobs.
You could ask the Squire and the Doctor for help
but they aren’t coming to your aid, not without that map.
Did you think they liked you for your sparkling personality?
No, they’ve gone over to the dark side.
Everyone is a Sith Lord now and working for the emperor.
At this point, you may have the temerity to ask
how you ever got into this game
besides being born, or you may ask to see the rules of the game
but the pirates have taken away the box top
and right now are in the other room rewriting the rules
because they’ve noticed you’re a smart cookie
and that, with enough time, you might
figure out a way to make the game fair.
Or you could go running into the dark sound stage
scurrying up and down Escher’s stairway
doing your best impression of Munch’s Scream
begging Rod Serling, at the signpost up ahead
for the key that unlocks the door of imagination
but through it all, the pirates will be
calmly waiting on your turn
at the Mobius strip that is the game board.
At this juncture, it does no good
to point out that the money on the table is fake.
Everything is fake.
It’s your lack of appreciation of this
that is holding you back.
The night terrors you feel in the wee hours
as you pace the plank in your living room
apoplectic that you will lose all you have or ever will have
are not the pangs of imminent doom
nor the portents of extinction looming
but opportunity knocking, my friend.
Jolly Roger flags are on sale at the gift shop in the lobby—
and always have been.
At this very moment, a ship lies rigged and ready in the harbor
tax deductible
waiting only for its captain to step aboard.
Or have you forgotten that Wall Street was once a port?