Tim Kahl


Tim Kahl [http://www.timkahl.com] is the author of Possessing Yourself (Word Tech, 2009) and The Century of Travel (Word Tech, 2012). His work has been published in Prairie Schooner, Indiana Review, Ninth Letter, Notre Dame Review, The Journal, Parthenon West Review, and many other journals in the U.S. He appears as Victor Schnickelfritz at the poetry and poetics blog The Great American Pinup (http://greatamericanpinup.wordpress.com/) and the poetry video blog Linebreak Studios [http://linebreakstudios.blogspot.com/]. He is also editor of Bald Trickster Press and Clade Song [http://www.cladesong.com]. He is the vice president and events coordinator of The Sacramento Poetry Center. He currently houses his father’s literary estate—one volume: Robert Gerstmann’s book of photos of Chile, 1932)

Um Real

When money stands still, it is no longer money — Georg Simmel

Stranger, you flutter on the face of this bill,
hummingbird from the high mind of the Banco Central,
whose opinion is a force of nature.
It produces the buzzing praças and the percentage
that prompts a currency trader’s leap of faith.
It cycles through the opportunity fields.
Its pulse is taken by the surgeon at the faults,
where the seismic patterns make
everyone panic to stay ahead of the wave.
When you stand still, you become unreal,
the mystery play of a well-traveled
professional, a secret stranger.
Stranger, you inspire the unwilling and
the unable. You are the necessary atom.
When I first saw your face, your tiny wings
beating at a stock ticker’s pace,
I could sense you were bringing something
new with you, something beautiful and
invisible. All my life I have heard the thrum
but couldn’t imagine how you moved,
how you might enter my life and my religion
of the solid return. The roar of trade is rude,
and you never stay long enough for me
to hear the tales of your voyages, off to add
another eighth note to the foreign chatter.
You vibrate and hum and interrupt,
but, stranger, you can’t buy silence anymore.

Um Real was originally written as a submission to the anthology entitled IOU: New Writing on Money [http://www.concordfreepress.com/previous-books] that Ron Slate of On the Seawall [http://ronslate.com/] was putting together on his Concord Press. I had been corresponding with Ron about the nature of money for a while after his visit to read here in Sacramento. At that juncture I was strongly influenced by Kevin Phillips’s Bad Money, which was the first book I had seen about the impending financial collapse (which at the time of its writing had not happened) and the commodification of personal debt in the US.

In any case, Ron had been an advocate of the complexities of money, that it was able to do as much to liberate and empower as it did to curtail and suppress. In fact, the book was an experiment to illustrate that point. He gave it away if you could illustrate you had made a donation to a non-profit. I was impressed by the generosity of spirit underpinning Ron’s project. However, I could not fully buy into his notion that money per se is a neutral angel, facilitating both good and evil depending on whose hands it is in and who wields control over it. To me, money more often than not is restrictive. It serves primarily as a basis for limiting access to resources that are scarce to those who can afford them. In a land of pure abundance, theoretically money would not be necessary.

Obviously, Ron saw more of my “negative” tone in the piece (despite my trying to be even-handed) [Note: he even quibbled as per the last line that money could indeed buy silence]. I was not all that surprised. Nevertheless, I was confident about the merits of the piece, so I immediately sent it to The Baltimore Review after Ron had rejected it.

I cribbed Simmel’s epigraph from Jack Weatherford’s wonderful The History of Money. From it, the essence of Simmel’s comment (and Ron and I had been debating about essences) seemed to be that money had to be in flux in order to be called money. If it wasn’t in flux, then it had to be something else, call it accumulation or surplus (if you’re a Marxist) or what have you. Knowing as I had from teaching in Brazil for several years the trials and tribulations Brazilians had undergone in the late 80s during the conversion from the cruzeiro to the real (suggesting something of real and substantive value compared to the hyperinflated mess that was Brazil’s currency during the late 80s), I found the suggestion of the real within the name of a currency to be a curious item for something that is really quite abstract. This is why the poem is originally set in Brazil with the hummingbird referring to the beija-flor (hummingbird in Portuguese) depicted on the one real note.