Contributor Spotlight: Patricia Hamilton


In the aftermath of the mortgage banking crisis of 2007, my husband, a management professor, was explaining collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps to me.  “Those are just forms of gambling!” I exclaimed.  My realization that Wall Street bankers had been wantonly toying with the lives of millions of people for their own thrill-seeking pleasure lit a slow-burning fuse.  

My father had spent several years as a loan credit examiner on the trail of one of the biggest fraudsters in banking history, so greed and corruption in high finance were not new phenomena to me.  Still, I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of peoplewere so far removed from the lives of ordinary Americans that they never paused to calculate the consequences of their actions—a catastrophic failure of moral imagination.  What could awaken their consciences?  What might foster empathy in them for people outside their own affluent circles? Immediately I began to conceive the resistance I might encounter if I offered to drive a Wall Street investment banker around the neighborhoods of people whose lives his actions had disrupted or ruined.  That furnished the poem’s premise: what would such a person see if he were to visit the region where I live?  

I remember telling a friend that I wanted to write a poem called “Lullaby of the Wall Street Investment Banker,” but for some reason I wasn’t ready.  Another two years passed before I accompanied my husband on a trip down U. S. Highway 45 south from Jackson, TN, to Tupelo, MS, one sunny June afternoon, scribbling notes on what I saw along the way.  Once I had specific images to work with, it was a matter of listening to the narrative voice in my head that kept beckoning, “Come with me.”

That slow fuse I mentioned?  Eventually it led to the small explosion that detonates in the poem’s last stanza.