906: Self-Portrait as Derivatives Trader

906: Self-Portrait as Derivatives Trader

906: Self-Portrait as Derivatives Trader


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

Several years ago, as Didi and I watched movers load the last remaining boxes from our Vermont basement onto one of three trucks, I realized how much of a gamble we were taking. What if, after the honeymoon period, our new Nashville colleagues were not as collegial, welcoming, and warm as we perceived during our interviews? What if the divisive politics of our nation played out in our new city and was too much to bear? We were . . . well, I was… hesitant and doubtful in the wake of friends who expressed concern about our move.

Moving to Nashville seemed like the right thing to do in my life at that time. Normally, I am not a risk-taker, but I needed to shake things up.

I take risks in my poems all the time. Change and adventure are important aspects of a poet’s growth. To write against convention is to test the limits of poetic form, of language, of our imagination. Sometimes that risk looks like writing in forms different than what is generally expected. Sometimes, shaking it up is approaching topics that feel vulnerable, both personally and communally. And I think, the greater the risk, the greater the reward.

Today’s poem appropriates the lexicon of securities and financial markets to spotlight the mental and emotional work of the artist that strategizes and takes chances.

Self-Portrait as Derivatives Trader
by José Edmundo Ocampo Reyes

                                  [P]oetical Character… does no harm from its relish of the dark side of
                                  things any more than from its taste for the bright one; because they both
                                  end in speculation.
                                  —John Keats, Letter to Richard Woodhouse, 27 October 1818


I speculate on the magnitude and direction
of others’ speculations, derive my profit
from another’s loss. I structure assets from assets,
alchemize compounds from every possible periodic table—
periodic table of the bonds / junk bonds,
convertibles, Samurais, Kiwis, TIPS / periodic
table of the stocks / Alibaba, Chevron, Daimler,
Travelers, AstraZeneca / periodic table of the indices /
FTSE, Bovespa, Nikkei, Hang Seng, Bolsa /
periodic table of the currencies /
baht, euro, ruble, ringgit, hryvnia, dinar /
periodic table of the commodities / 
copper, coffee, orange juice, lumber, rice, hogs—
elements that outnumber and outglitter the stars.


Call, put, forward, swap: Out of these simple financial machines
I make things, construct boxes that nest boxes
like words defined by words defined by words,
stratagems to hedge my position, apply leverage
to leverage to topple a country’s currency
peg, or sell in a shadow market that dwarfs
the largest bazaar the mind can conceive,
to whose barchan-shaped rhythms and syntax
I am attuned. Where there is stillness,
I sow volatility; where there is fear, cold resolve.
I reflect on my screens, worlds’ simulacra,
where headlines march relentlessly, expendable platoons,
and prices fluctuate like populations,
promiscuous and ultimately doomed

"Self-Portrait as Derivatives Trader" by José Edmundo Ocampo Reyes. Used by permission of the poet.