The man sits on a barstool in his local bar, where the bartender
lets him pay for his drinks with food stamps. He’s on the dole,
although sometimes at night when the bar is closing he thinks
of getting a job on the town road crew – rolling gravel and tar
and dirt into holes that reappear every year in some other place
or flagging motorists to stop and go, stop and go, stop and go.
But this is work enough, this drinking into oblivion every night
only to wake with the sun and have to start all over again.
Sometimes on his weary way from his sleep place to barstool,
he sees children in the schoolyard. He thinks he could teach
– pouring appropriate knowledge into small heads, new faces
each year, faces replaced by other faces, all vaguely familiar.
But his is work enough, rolling along the same street from sobriety
to oblivion, the monthly welfare burning holes in his clothes.
His needs are one. His responsibility looms large before him.
On particularly sunny, sweet mornings, while he’s waiting
for his bar to open, he sees his employment opportunities
as numerous as the blades of grass of the manicured lawns, as cars
that pass him with disapproving looks, as dogs he knows well,
as the shuffled steps it takes to reach this gate to another world.
But as the bartender unlatches the door, this man knows his rock;
he knows the half-empty bottle on the shelf inside is his to roll;
he knows the shot glass must be slid repeatedly from the edge of the bar
to the bartender as may times as it takes each day to get a berth.
He feels the weight of the whole community on his shoulders.
All that ambition, hope, desire, he wears on his collarbone
and cannot put down. Without his hard work, who would people
have not to be? Who would children have not to become?