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ISSUE:  Autumn 1990
I wonder why I slip so much—
then see that the bottoms
of my sneakers are bald,
no purchase left
for anything.

A man who was in World War I,
at Paschendaele, tells about mud:
“We couldn’t make a forward move
without putting down
duck boards, removing them
as we advanced, putting them down again
ahead of us.”

An old couple has plenty, but—
because money is easier than death
to worry about—
they insure survival
through small observances
of thrift: measure
accurately, remember to consume
 perishables.

Our parents tell our children
you’ll get great things
from us someday.
Each time I put away
a crystal vase, several people
hold their breath.

Any day, in the local scrap yard,
there are black men. Their job
is to rearrange smoking wreckage.
They wear twisted hats and the sideways look
of men trapped but resigned.

One day by mistake I drove past
the place they’re buried: sponge patch
of dirt mounds and tumbled plastic flowers.
The epitaphs are someplace else.

Still, there are many
safe investments: the dust
of city sounds, a midnight
parking garage, an empty bottle
in a paper bag fastened by a twist
to the neck. The dusk
five o’clock takes,
the big highways’
two rainy grooves
Birds passing high up.

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