by Howard J. Kogan

Growing up in the 1940s I would get summer pocket money
gleaning the area under the bleachers at the baseball field.
A half-hour of crawling around would yield enough 2-cent deposits
for a candy bar or my own bottle of soda. If I got the soda,
the 2-cent deposit on the bottle could be used for two penny candies.

I think about those times whenever I see pennies lying in the street
as if, of no value. I still pick up every one I see.

Our town has a “Transfer Station,” that’s the official name,
for the place we bring all our garbage and recyclables.
Most of us, who lived here when we had a real garbage dump,
one that burned most days and smoked all the time, still call it the dumps.

On my last visit to the dumps I saw an elderly couple working
their way through the huge containers where the glass and cans
are dumped. The man had a small lawn rake with a long handle
and he was standing on a milk crate leaning through
the plastic portal doors churning the cans and bottles.
His wife was at the opposite portal and when he’d spot
a two-cent deposit he’d work the rake under it and flip it to her.

His wife had the one good side. Her left arm bore the clenched fist
and rigor that is the mark of a stroke. Her left leg,
though less affected, was still used the way she might
have used a wooden leg to hold her up as she stepped out
with her right foot, then dragged the left even,
before stepping out again with the right.
She dropped the cans and bottles she caught in a Macy’s
shopping bag hanging from her frozen arm.

They stepped back while I dumped my recyclables.
I knew them – Bob and Audrey. She was friendly
asked after the family, Bob looked away.
It’s harder for men. I know that, I looked away too.
I finished and they went back to work.
Bob pitching – Audrey catching – old timers – teammates –
doing the best they can.

Gleaning – Howard Kogan

Howard J. Kogan is a psychotherapist and poet who lives in the Taconic Mountains of East Central New York State.  His book of poems, Indian Summer, was published in 2011. 

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