Closer to Texas
Any day but Sunday,
they got the one-day bag of food—
Cheerios, cans of fruit cocktail or amniotic peaches,
field or navy beans,
a tall white can with black letters that said,
Beef or sometimes Pork,
sometimes roll-on deodorant,
maybe conditioner, sometimes condoms.
Always a three-day bag of food if there were visible children.
Then a change of clothes from the thrift store,
which, after scanning through, they’d usually refuse.
But what they wanted was the ten-dollar check for gasoline
to get them east to Birmingham
west to Meridian.
Sundays we’re closed,
but I’m ass-deep in the donation bin
sorting out the yard sale overflow—
King Solomon of bric-a-brac
deciding at a glance between
what is of value and might be sold
and what should be hauled to the dump.
Sundays were dead as four o’clock,
but I liked the work. It brought my right mind.
And often in the trash bags of largess
there was unintentional treasure—
washed bills in watch pockets
a sterling earring mixed in among the others.
Then I heard their footsteps behind me.
He was a skinny man and young,
cigarette, Western hat and boots, NASCAR tee-shirt.
She might have been his daughter or his wife,
small and ginger cake brown.
His eyes looked for mine but I kept them from him.
We’re needing money for gas to get her back to Texas
He said, I’m told this place has money for that–
beer and smoke on his breath.
Not much and not today, I said.
Anyway, it’s a check that’s only good for one tank
and can’t get you where you need to go.
He listened, impassive, like not listening,
but what I said seemed like rain to her
and made me wish I hadn’t said it.
I spoke to their backs,
You can help for pay.
Together we dragged out
stained mattresses, carpets,
and the leaking corpse of a waterbed.
I gave them cash and took their thanks
and saw them later, as I drove home,
leaving Texaco on foot,
a six pack in each of their hands
moving closer to Texas,
however they please.
“Closer to Texas” first appeared in Spinning Jenny, vol. 6, p.80, 2002.