Look at them, slumped in the corner there.
Ears pounded and mouse-bitten,
ragged legs askew. Rubber lips kissing
cold cement. Even here, among the abandoned,
they are twice forsaken:
the coffee cup, chipped to a wobble,
is ever at hand; the faded sweater
desires shoulders, sure,
but a hanger anyway does the trick;
even that flattened football
fairly whistles with tossed potential.
What is it that goes out of dolls ?
They have never been more
than what they are ? How is it that now
they look less? Don’t look,
says the mother, left arm crooked
and loaded with a dozen pairs of slacks.
Honey, if they scare you, just look
the other way. Her little girl knows already
we’re only going the one way,
and so takes the measure of these
one-eyed, earless, hacked-bald dolls—
takes a step closer, her own rubber soles
kiss-kissing cold cement.
On every one
she’s put a price tag. Oh, sure,
as old alphabet blocks go
this clown’s lips still strawberry,
each tree green and tall—
but why is S twenty cents ?
And why, Q, are you
a dime less demanding?
Or Mister Victory,
upright V, with your violet ink
and predictable violin,
why do you
deserve not just a dime
but a dozen cents? It doesn’t
make any sense. Though maybe
her first husband was a Leon
or a Larry—
and that’s why L
is had now for the linty nickel
at the bottom of my pocket.
Wayne, it says, on the back of the upright mirror,
in blue crayon. The woman
at the shoebox till, hair crimped and bleached,
can’ t be more than twenty-four.
I don’t hear a thing from the house. And too,
there are the toys—
yellow dumptruck without a wheel,
box of just-worn baseballs. Those few pairs
of some small boy’ s patch-kneed jean s. Where,
oh where, can he be? God
of garage sales, of Jefferson Airplane 8-tracks,
of mismatched rose-patterned plates,
of shave-cream bottles shaped like rocket ships
and stilettos red as sour candy, of sixteen neon t-shirts
imploring one and all to Eat at Jake’s,
of just-a-dollar, three-for-one, you-won’t-find-another,
of all things culled from basement closet corners,
of all things wearing a decade’s furze of dust,
of all things justly and unjustly
junked—I pray now, here, in this stranger’s
strange garage, for this one, whose blue name
Iowans are easy, all smiles
and apologies, but the nicest set of drawers I’ve found,
of course, belongs to the Italian down the street—
all his eighty years
and ninety-eight pounds given to rage,
rage at whatever idiocy
the new day brings. Today,
I offer thirty. His old face fists,
his two fists like birds shot dead. You think
my things are not so nice? You think
I sell this good thing I bought in Omaha
with my own money? Bought when I was young too?
When I was man as you? That’s what you think?
Thirty-two fifty. You haul it out yourself.
It’s gotten darker than I hoped. And so,
after fingering for hours
the hidden, homely things of these—
my towns-men and -women—
I’m on my way back home. Before I left,
you said, Only what’s on the list.
And because I love you, I promised,
though right off I think you’ll understand
these LP’s—look here,
Little Feat’s Dixie Chicken—
couldn’t be passed up. The Jimmy Carter
coffee cup? That may be a stretch—
but it was only fifty cents. And for a buck
I got this charcoal grill shaped like a can of Pabst—
can you believe it? Just a buck! Yes,
I found a rocking chair, changing table, swing
and bouncing seat. Yes, now we’re ready. Yes,
I’m happy as can be. Yes, yes, life is made
of castoff things. God, yes—we need that yellow pail!
It’s for him. To carry things in. Whoever he is,
whatever he needs to carry.
Joe Wilkins is the author of a memoir, The Mountain and the Fathers, and a collection of poems, Killing the Murnion Dogs. He lives with his wife, son, and daughter in north Iowa. You can find him online at joewilkins.org.