Jess Walter

A Brief Political Manifesto


I was driving around the packed Costco parking lot
looking for a space and listening to some guy
on NPR talk about America’s growing suburban poor
when I saw this woman with four kids—
little stepladders, two-four-six-eight—
waiting to climb in the car while Mom
loaded a cask of peanut better and
pallets of swimsuits into the back
of this all-wheel drive vehicle
and the kids were so cute I waved
and that’s when I saw the most amazing thing
as the woman bent over
to pick up a barrel
of grape juice:
her low-rise pants rose low and right there
in the small of her large back
stretched a single strained string,
a thin strap of fabric, yes,
the Devil’s floss, I shit you not
a thong, I swear to God, a thong,
now me, I’m okay with the thong
politically and aesthetically, I’m fine
with it being up there or out there,
or wherever it happens to be.

My only question is:
when did Moms start wearing them?

I remember my mom’s underwear
(Laundry was one of our chores:
we folded those things awkwardly,
like fitted sheets. We snapped them
like tablecloths. Thwap.
My sister stood on one end,
me on the other
and we walked toward each other

We folded those things
like big American flags,
hats off, respectful
careful not to let them
brush the ground.)

Now I know there are people out there
who constantly fret about
the Fabric of America;
gay couples getting married, violent videos, nasty TV,
that sort of thing.
But it seems to me
the Fabric of America
would be just fine
if there was a little more of it
in our mothers’ underpants.

And that is the issue I will run on
when I eventually run:
Getting our moms out of thongs
and back into hammocks
with leg holes
the way God


“A Brief Political Manifesto” originally appeared in The Financial Lives of the Poets (Harper Perennial, 2010).


Jess Walter’s work has been translated into more than 20 languages and his essays, short fiction, criticism and journalism have been widely published, in DetailsPlayboyNewsweekThe Washington Post, the Los Angeles TimesThe Boston Globe among many others. His nonfiction book, Every Knee Shall Bow, was a finalist for the pen Center West literary nonfiction award in 1996. His novel Citizen Vince won a 2006 Edgar Allan Poe award, and his following novel,The Zero, was a finalist for the 2006 National Book Award. His most recent novel is Beautiful Ruins.



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