Poetry and street photography by David J. Thompson
All My Change
You’re just going to run into Kroger for your usual
snacks and a 6 pack of microbrew Saturday night.
You put both hands in the front pouch of your sweatshirt
against the winter-is-on-its-way November chill, hurry
straight across the parking lot thinking about how early
it gets dark these days. Then you see her, pale and pink-eyed
as an albino bunny and still and silent as Buddha, sort of
a female version of Johnny or Edgar Winter, sitting behind
a folding table next to the automatic doors. She’s got
a big glass jar, maybe a quarter full with coins and a few bills.
You don’t have to look too close at the flyer to know her kid needs
an operation they can’t possibly afford for some fucked up disease
that nobody’s ever heard of and only doctors know how to pronounce.
Inside, you pick up a hand basket, head straight for the chips,
trying to distract yourself wondering if Johnny and Edgar Winter
were twins or just brothers, but you can’t help thinking about
a few years ago and your own deadly disease – the lung sarcoma
and the months of chemo, and hours surgery, and weeks
in the hospital with a hole in what was left of your right lung.
You grab some Tostitos and a jar of salsa, walk toward
the beer aisle remembering that at least you had Blue Cross
and helpful friends who knew the right people, and, still,
you know you’re damn lucky just to be alive, so, you walk
past the microbrew and the German beers and pull down
a 12 pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon cans. In the checkout line
you stare at the tabloids, wonder what chance in hell
that poor little kid has with a mayonnaise jar of nickels.
You step out of the yellowy light of the store into the darkness,
carrying your stuff with your left arm, right hand full with all your change,
but she and her table and jar are all gone. Shit, you say almost out loud,
put the bag down on the sidewalk and look out into the parking lot.
You don’t see her, just some other shoppers and some kid wrestling
with a long line of shopping carts. You pick up your stuff, pull up the hood
of your sweat shirt, head for your car, head down against the wind.
You figure you’ll come back tomorrow to get groceries for the week,
hope she’ll be back so you can put your change in the jar even when
you’ve sobered up enough to know it won’t make any difference.
Ohio. Photography by David J. Thompson
Hood Up, Head Down
Jesus Christ, you say to yourself.
I’m fifty-five fucking years old,
and I’m still riding school buses.
It’s the dead of Michigan winter
on a Friday night. It’s starting
to snow. You’re heading home
from a game across town.
The varsity coaches are huddled
a few seats back across the aisle
trying to read the scorebook
by the light of their phones.
You’re the JV coach sitting alone
with the med kit, knees against
the seat in front of you. You check
your watch, put your forehead
against the cool of the window,
look out at the same old highway signs
you’ve seen a million times before,
try to guess what time you’ll finally get home.
Back at school, you wait in the lobby
until the last kid’s ride shows up.
He’s the worst player on the team.
You tell him to have a good weekend,
then turn out the lights and walk
quickly with your hood up, head down
against the wind and snow, to your car,
the last one left in the parking lot. You brush
off the snow, see your grey breath hanging there
in the frozen blue light. You start it up,
Springsteen blaring, pray the heat kicks in soon.
You’re a little more hungry than tired,
so you stop at the diner near your place.
The old woman who always wears two sweaters
takes your order at the counter and the guy
in the Red Wings cap with the tattooed forearms
is working the grill. A few minutes later,
you walk out with two grilled cheese on rye,
a dark grease stain already starting to show
on the bottom of the brown paper bag.
Finally home, you drop your laptop
on a chair, let your coat fall to the floor.
You loosen your tie on your way
into the kitchen to grab a beer
and some paper towels. You collapse
on the couch, click on the tv, pull
out the sandwiches. You eat and drink
mindlessly, surf through the channels
without finding anything you want
to watch. You get up for another beer,
notice the big pile of laundry on the floor
near the bathroom door. Oh, shit, you say
out loud, I should have gotten quarters
at the diner. Guess I’ll have to back out
in the morning. You sit back down, take
a long swallow of beer, start feeling
around blindly for any loose change
you might find between the cushions,
wonder if the snow’s ever going to stop.
Indiana. Photography by David J. Thompson