Dirty Money

Published in Legal Studies Forum (Spring 2017)


Ninety percent of U.S. dollar bills carry a trace of cocaine.
Similar results worldwide.
From this, other inquiries—
bills tested for every illicit drug, every contaminant, every fear.
Heroin, morphine, crystal meth, PCP, amphetamines, nicotine, bacteria, all there.

Telling us what?

Not that a lot of drugs are sold for a lot of cash,
or that nestled in tills,
bills rub against each other,
share their secrets. We hardly needed
science to tell us that.

News flash:
Dollar bills live a nomad’s life,
touch rich and poor,
carry all of human joy, human suffering, there
in the paper and ink.

So why no test for these—
the pentimenti, the added value?
Below the dirt, the lucre, the fear,
hidden stories waiting for remembrance.

Three times I smoothed and crisped the dollar bill,
three times slid it into the arrowed slot before
the machine accepted it, delivered
the soda I would not drink, but had risen to buy
to do something while I waited for them to tell me
what I already knew,
that I was losing this baby.

So many years later,
reading about ridiculous cocaine tests on dollar bills,
I remember this—
that it was three times,
that I watched the bill disappear.
(Schulkind, Dirty Money, page 2, new stanza)
And I imagine it now,
imprinted with the pain of that day,
folded in the dark of someone’s wallet,
and suddenly long to have it back,
know I could love unconditionally
the one who has it,
if only you would bring it to me,
press it into my open palm.