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Susan Briante

Susan Briante’s most recent book The Market Wonders (Ahsahta Press) was a finalist for the National Poetry Series. The Kenyon Review calls it “masterful at every turn.” She is also the author of the poetry collections Pioneers in the Study of Motion and Utopia Minus (an Academy of American Poets Notable Book of 2011), both from Ahsahta Press. Of Utopia MinusPublisher’s Weekly declared: “this book finds an urgent language for the world in which we live.”

Briante writes creative nonfiction and essays on documentary poetics as well as on the relationship between place and cultural memory. Some of these can be found in Gulf CoastGuernicaBlack Warrior ReviewCreative NonfictionRethinking History,Jacket2 and The Believer. Her poems and essays been collected in the anthologies Poems for Political Diaster (Boston Review), The Force of What’s PossibleThe Volta Book of PoetsDevouring the GreenThe Arcadia Project: the North American Postmodern PastoralStarting Today: Poems for Obama’s First 100 DaysThe Sonnets: Rewriting Shakespeare, and An Introduction to the Prose Poem among others.

A translator, she lived in Mexico City from 1992-1997 working for the magazines Artes de México and Mandorla. Her translations have appeared in the journals BombBombay GinTranslation Review and Review: Latin American Literature and Arts (among many others) as well as in the anthologies Reversible Monuments: Contemporary Mexican Poetry and Hotel Lautreamont: Contemporary Poetry of Uruguay.

Briante has received grants and awards from the Atlantic Monthly, the MacDowell Colony, the Academy of American Poets, the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Memorial Fund and the US-Mexico Fund for Culture.

She serves as the faculty liaison and educational facilitator for the Southwest Field Studies in Writing Program. The program brings MFA students to the US-Mexico border to work with community-based environmental and social justice groups as well as to lead workshops with local high school students. Her research and teaching interests include poetry and poetics, cross-genre writing, experimental autobiography, documentary studies, affect theory, and translation.

Mother is Marxist

My daughter plays hide and seek with white floor-length panel curtains in front of a window in our living room. Dusk traffics light, the light scans her. She is gold leafed in the curtain before the window.

Can’t you see her gold?


“I do not know whether you have seen the building of the Metropolitan Company in New York. . . .” Charles Coolidge Read stated before the Massachusetts Legislature in 1895. “Go up to the directors’ room where the floor is soft with velvet carpets and the room is finished in rich red mahogany…there you will find these gentlemen who think what a beautiful thing this child insurance is. . .”

Read insisted that from every block of marble in the Metropolitan Company building peered “the hungry eyes of some starving child.”

In 1895, one could purchase a $10 life insurance policy for a one-year-old child or a $33 policy for a 10-year-old child for 3 cents a week. One and a half million children were insured in the United States in 1896. By 1902, that number climbed to over 3 million.

Advocates said the policies served as funerary insurance as well as protected poor and working class families against a loss of income at a time when child labor was common. Opponents, like Read, believed it provided incentive for poor or working class parents to neglect or outright murder their children for profit. Such opponents never questioned the ease with which they believed poor or working class parents might be tempted to kill their children. Actual incidents of infanticide related to child insurance appear to be rare.

Still, a writer for the Boston Evening Transcript declared: “No manly man and no womanly woman should be ready to say that their infants have pecuniary value.”


When we lived in the two-bedroom house on a busy street on the fringes of a “good” neighborhood in Dallas, once every a couple of months I would hear gunshots, often on Saturday nights, usually late enough that I was in bed.

We purchased the house through the Obama tax credit program for firsttime homebuyers, a response to the economic crisis of 2008 and the housing market crash. Because we could not afford to put 20 percent down, we had two mortgages, the second of which included a balloon payment.

We purchased the two-bedroom house on a busy street on the fringes of a “good” neighborhood in Dallas because we were trying to have a baby and the neighborhood had the best public elementary school as well as two Montessori charter schools.


The average per student expenditure for public elementary and secondary schools in 2012-13 ranged from a high in Vermont of $19,752 per student to a low in Arizona of $6,949.


The market scans my child, calculates pecuniary value.

Parents register and respond often seeking out the places (the “good” neighborhood or private school) where a child’s value is high enough in relation to the needs of others to make them relatively safe

or a parent may reaffirm existing market valuations.

And if the child is female or presents as female And if the child is queer or presents as queer And if the child is poor or presents as poor And if the child is of color or ethnic or presents as of color or ethnic

a little spark of mica in a field of sand.


Pregnant women and new mothers have a heightened sense of smell and easily disrupted patterns of sleep.


One night after a particularly loud series of gunshots heard from the bedroom in our two-bedroom house on a busy street on the fringes of a “good” neighborhood in Dallas, Farid called the police. I don’t remember what he said, what kind of injury we could have reported, what response we expected.

When we bought the house, we joined the neighborhood association. We also had the option of paying an additional $180 for “an off-duty police officer to patrol our neighborhood each week” as well as “answer our emails” and provide “special patrols” while we were away.


Per day, per pupil, per square foot

many parents may want to register and respond to the values the market places on their child, but a parent’s own depressed value may leave her with scant time to challenge market valuations of her children, child, self.

“Boys are easier to raise than girls,” my mother told me.

I feel my depressed value as a woman as well as my surplus value as a white ethnic.

The consultant in the TED talk teaches me to stand bigger.


In 1908 a ten-year-old boy working in a mill made 30 cents a day.

In 1911 an eight-year-old girl shucking oysters made 30 cents to 35 cents a day. An eight-year-old boy, who had been shucking for three years, earned 45 cents a day.

In 1917 a ten-year-old girl working on a tobacco farm made 50 cents a day.

As recently as 2014 the Human Rights Watch reported it remained “perfectly legal” in the United States “for a 12-year-old to work 50 or 60 hours a week in tobacco fields, as long his or her parents’ consent and the work doesn’t directly conflict with school hours.”


Often the day after hearing gunfire from my bedroom of our two bedroom house on a busy street on the fringes of a “good” neighborhood in Dallas, I would scan the Internet looking for some piece of news to link to the sounds. I never found mention of a shootout or injury or killing.

The gunshots existed as fragment in a storyline that seemed to have no relation to me, a non sequitur, a piece of conversation overheard in a language in which I had no fluency.

But those metaphors are wrong.

My legislative representatives cannot or will not pass gun control policy, my tax dollars support the purchase of surplus military equipment by police. The white imaginary criminalizes non-white bodies.


On December 2, 2014 the Dow closed up 17,879. On November 22, 2014 the Dow was closed. On November 20, 2014 the Dow closed up 17,719. On August 19, 2014 the Dow closed up 16,919. On August 12, 2014 the Dow closed down 16,560. On August 9, 2014 the Dow was closed. On August 5, 2014 the Dow closed down 16,429. On August 2, 2014 the Dow was closed. On July 17, 2014 the Dow closed down 16,976. On March 22, 2014 the Dow was closed. On February 16, the Dow was closed. On January 28, 2014 the Dow closed up 15,928. On January 16, 2014 the Dow closed down 16,417.

On each one of those days, one unarmed person of color (most frequently an African-American man, sometimes more than one) was killed in the custody of police according to information released by the NAACP. This list is by no means exhaustive as no central agency tracks the number of police shootings or killings of unarmed victims in a comprehensive way.


From 2001-2011, Department of Homeland Security grants provided police departments with $34 billion to fund their militarization, making profits for military contractors and for-profit law enforcement training organizations

like special ops supplier Blackhawk Industries (founded by a former Navy SEAL), ThunderSledge breaching tools, Lenco Armored Vehicles bulletproof box trucks, KDH Defense Systems’s body armor, like HaloDrop “flying robotic services for serious incidents and situations,” D-Co, Leaders and Training LLC, like Innovative Tactical Training Solutions, like Winchester Ammunition.

Every altercation helps justify the militarization of police

and someone makes money makes money makes money makes money.


I want to teach my child to shed numbers like a skin in the summer, in the shimmering heat of the ever-warming summer.


We were able to afford the two-bedroom house on the fringes of a “good” neighborhood in Dallas because it sat on a street with six lanes of traffic separated down the middle by a small park or a large median of trees.

Most of the windows in the house were painted shut. Many rattled from the vibration of passing cars.

We kept a small padlock on the gate at the top of our driveway.

Before the padlock, men sometimes came to our door smelling of liquor selling magazines or asking to use our phone. Once I watched an old sedan lurch onto the sidewalk in front of our house. A woman shouted from the driver’s seat while a man reluctantly exited from the passenger side, pieces of clothing flying out the door and window after him.

From the front windows of the house you could see cottonwoods, oaks, and black walnut trees. From almost anywhere in the house you could hear the traffic.


Mothers attempt to erase integers, to move decimals, to point out discrepancies in the ledger, disrupt the protocols of exchange.

When the mothers of the victims of police violence march on Washington, DC,

when mothers in Central America set their children like paper lanterns

on a breeze,

when warehouses of children wait at our border,

Mother is Marxist, exposing as false and pernicious the mystification of capitalist instantiations of value, promiscuous relations of value and their violence.

Mother is not a biological or relational subject position, but can be an attitude of resistance before the market.


Underfunded public schools show their cinder block, reveal their district paint purchased from the lowest bidder, can’t hide their too many desks, their too tired, their underpaid.

You see it in their lunch trays.

Private schools flaunt their walls of windows, famous architect library, flagstone pathways, full-time counselor.

In such places, children learn to read their market value.


Scholar Viviana A. Zelizer explains: “Children’s insurance began as outright bets among 16th-century European businessmen on the birth and lives of boys and girls.”


A police officer flaunts his gun and in the amount of time your child is afforded to pull their hand from their pocket

you can learn their market value.


Value differentiates. Metaphor makes false equations.

When we talk about metaphor we talk about “vehicles,” but metaphor can erase distance, conceal the mode of transport: the ride hiding in the wheel well of the 747 or the journey along a dry riverbed through the Sonoran night.

The work of all mothers is not equal, although the goal to challenge market valuations may be the same. The market exploits our attachments, makes its violent calculations. The market, mothers, divides and divides us.

And someone makes money makes money makes money makes money.

I want to slur the equations.


My love for my daughter is dumb and simple all of my feeling focused, funneled into the leaky sewer line running down the front yard of our two-bedroom house from which the black walnut tree feeds.


Sentimentality is a shard from the shop front window of family. What sliver of American plate glass do you see?

I sympathize with the desire to throw a brick through a shop window and steal a television set.

But sympathy is not enough.


Children are not paper lanterns set on a breeze.

Imagine cutting off an arm to save the body.

Dear mother, you feel like the arm.


In Tucson, we buy a 2-2 house in a “good neighborhood” with a neighborhood association. We no longer hear gunshots at night. We no longer have the chance to pay for additional police patrols or attention. We hope to get our daughter into a better elementary school than the one in our neighborhood through an open enrollment lottery.

Often we fall asleep to sound of helicopters or fighter planes taking off or landing at the nearby Davis-Monthan Air Force Base: the A-10 Thunderbolt II or the HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter, the HC-130J Combat King II transport or the F-16C or F-16D Fighting Falcon.

The financial advisory giant Deloitte predicts continued decline in revenue for the global defense sector, with the U.S. defense budget “a key driver of this decline.” Still Deloitte gave A+ ratings to stocks in this sector including Textron, Honeywell International, Huntington Ingalls Industries, and the Curtiss-Wright Corp.


Unmanned aerial vehicles, better known as drones, scan the Sonoran desert for moving bodies.

There are no accurate numbers for the children killed by U.S. drones outside of our country.

Sometimes when I look up I can see the pale underbelly of the HC-130J Combat King II transport gliding over the streets of my neighborhood or the playground of my daughter’s preschool like a hand passing over a velvet rug in the boardroom of an insurance company.


If we traveled far enough, we could find a 1000 children waiting on the border;

they were walking toward us.

Works Cited

Ackerman, Spencer. “41 men targeted but 1,147 people killed: US drone strikes – the facts on the ground.” The Guardian. 24 November 2014. Web. 05 June 2015.

Becker, Jo. “Child Laborers. In America. In 2014.” Human Rights Watch, 17 Sept. 2014. Web. 05 June 2015.

Hine, Lewis. “National Child Labor Committee Collection.” Prints & Photographs Online Catalog (Library of Congress). Library of Congress, n.d. Web. 05 June 2015.

Juzwiak, Rich, and Aleksander Chan. “Unarmed People of Color Killed by Police, 1999-2014.” Gawker. N.p., 8 Dec. 2014. Web. 05 June 2015.

Lee, Jaeah. “Exactly How Often Do Police Shoot Unarmed Black Men?” Mother Jones. Mother Jones, 15 Aug. 2014. Web. 05 June 2015.

“Rankings of the States 2013 and Estimates of School Statistics 2014.” NEA-Ranking of the States. NEA, 12 Mar. 2014. Web. 05 June 2015.

Schulz, Andrew and Becker, G. W. “Local Cops Ready for War With Homeland Security-Funded Military Weapons.” The Daily Beast. Newsweek/Daily Beast, 21 Dec. 2011. Web. 05 June 2015.

Zelizer, Viviana A. “The Price and Value of Children: The Case of Children’s Insurance.” American Journal of Sociology 86.5 (1981): 1036. JSTOR. Web. 17.

For additional and important work on race and value, see Lyndon Barrett’s Blackness and Value, Fred Moten’s In the Break, and Katherine McKittrick’s “Mathematics of Black Life.”


“Mother is Marxist” is from The Market Wonders, published by Ahsahta press in 2016. The poem first appeared in Guernica magazine. Copyright © 2016 by Susan Briante. Used with permission of the author.

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