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A blood collection bus (bloodmobile) from Children's Hospital Boston at a manufacturing facility in Massachusetts/Wikipedia photo by Tianliu

The Flow of Living (and Giving) Blood

By Ernesto Tinajero

A common image of oppression comes from wanting the very blood of the poor. The tales of vampires dominate dark recess with legends of noblewoman Elizabeth Báthory bathing in the blood of poor peasants. Taking the blood of the poor makes a powerful metaphor. Only it is not a metaphor. When I first moved to Spokane and needed work or after finding a low paying job, I gave blood for my bread. Many do so. I saw the real face of the poor and the one seldom depicted on FoxNews: people willing to give there very life essence to feed their children. Rather than lazy welfare queens, which haunts the imagination of Talk Radio, these poor, I among them, would strap on a needle and for 30 minutes as a machine would squeeze plasma out of us. Below is a poem in honor of those willing to give blood to live. Jesus gave his blood for us and today a poor mother will strap on a needle to feed their children.

 

     Ode to the Blood Plasma Boogie

 

Like squeezing grapes,

our blood flows

out of us, recycles

and splits out a bit

of us, golden in color,

into a plastic

bottle. We, the poor,

lay side by side, on blue

recliners, selling our blood

 

plasma to pay

our weekly bills. Twice

a week, four weeks

for the month,

and I have half

enough of our monthly

groceries to fill our empty

cabinets. My palm pumps

to aid in the removal,

resting on return,

a seven minute cycle in total.

I breathe like rising bread.

 

Posters proclaiming healed

kids befriend us, college students,

unemployed, the under-employed

and me. One gets to know

which technician (they are

not called nurses)

pokes easy, and which has

a perchance to blow a vein,

costing one a future visit.

The technicians are kind and know

the regulars by name. For them,

the hours—long—the coats,

white—sort of lab coats—

sort of doctors coats

whatever the intent.

They pick up and clean, while

bleeding others, their job.

They are poor, like us, and know

the routine.  The blood

harvested for good, for gold.

 

Before the needle,

iodine colors

and circles the spot

of puncture, turning

the skin a fecal brown.

Priests to the ritual

of our desperation

mixed with routine,

they become skilled

with calming nerves.

 

A single mom stops

here after waiting

tables and before picking up

her Marybeth from Grammy’s.

She reads the third

book of Twilight. Shimmering

Vampires in one hand,

a needle sticking out

and attached to a tube

sucking blood

in her other arm.

 

A boy of 20, wearing

a Gonzaga sweatshirt,

tours in preparation

for his first time. He will remove

the sweatshirt,

and look away as the needle

makes its way for the first

time into his flesh.

 

The new ones have a macabre

hesitation. Dread acting

as toothpicks propping open

their eyes. The others,

me included,

are kind and explain

the not so bad of it.

We are called donors, though

we are selling. Nobility

of helping the burned,

the children, the needy

hang as artwork, reassuring. Yet

it is the demand of money

that draws us here.

Blood drawn in five,

six, seven or occasionally

eight cycles fills the bottle

enough for us to receive

the daily portion. Strange,

 

many of us race

each other, pride

in taking less time being

milked and sucked by the whizzing

machines worn like a purple

heart to soldiers. Many

boast at their quick

time.

 

So, twice a week

I sell my blood,

spending the silver shekels

on food, heat and electricity. I

join the regulars who recognize

each other with little

chatter. The TVs are there

to entertain the assembly

line of blue

couches filled with us

passing time, selling our

essence.

 

Oprah, Phil

and others offer advice

on how to live.

Sometimes, a Hollywood

money movie plays, comedy

or romance. Both my arms

have semi-scars on the crevice

opposite my elbow. Semi-scars?

What do you call

an opening in the skin

that closes between sessions?

A wound? But intentionality

robs those opening

in my arms of being wounds

without connotation

of accident. Scars?

They will not fully

heal, until

my economy changes.

Those who give

for money recognize

the mark on my arms.

I wear long sleeve

shirts that can easily

be rolled up.

 

The last cycle, then they

add saltwater to replace

the golden fluid. A cotton

swab of alcohol, a quick

wrap of skin colored

medical tap, and a paper

with four numbers crosses

my palm. Punch them

into the mock ATM,

$20 early in the week

and $25 later in the week.

I walk out, arm

in a mundane bandage,

and I open the metal door

and walk into the afternoon

sun starting to descend

into another July

night.

 

About Ernesto Tinajero

Art, says Ernesto Tinajero, comes from the border of what has come before and what is coming next. Tinajero uses his experience studying poetry and theology to write about the intersecting borders of art, poetry and religion.

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