The mailman handing me a letter,
he paid a little. My daughter’s
third grade teacher, the electrician
putting a light over my back door:
they paid as well. The woman at the bank
who cashes my check. She paid a part of it.
The typist in my office, the janitor
sweeping the floor—they paid some too.
The movie star paid for it. The nurse,
the nun, the saint, they all paid for it—
a photograph from Central America,
six children lying neatly in a row.
One day I was teaching or I sold
a book review or I gave a lecture
and some of the money came to me
and some rolled off into the world,
but it was still my money, the result
of my labor, each coin still had my name
printed across it, and I went on living,
passing my days in a box with a tight lid.
But elsewhere, skulking through tall grass,
a dozen men approached a village. It was hot;
the men made no noise. See that one’s cap,
see the button on that other man’s shirt,
* * *
hear the click of the cartridge as it slides
into its chamber, see the handkerchief
which that man uses to wipe his brow—
I paid for that one, that one belongs to me.
Stephen Dobyns, “In A Row” from Velocities: New and Selected Poems.Copyright © (1966-1992) 1994 by Stephen Dobyns.
The Grove, Los Angeles