by Best Poem
Rag and Bones Man
Not so much scavenger as savior-
balloons tied to his horse’s harness
to tempt the children out
of the poorhouse.
Et begun ike ve crows, who,
seein’ the gleam of a fing might be human-
bet uv metool hoop
slipped from a girl’s skirt
that gleam fredding sod…
Out of the shanty of leftovers, heels, and table scraps
the young ones came running, wearing
remnants of rags,
second, third-hand hand me downs.
I begn tah do et-seein as de casual
‘as his own value,
be it measured in glue, iron, fabric, paper…
Who gets up when the missus’ milk’s gone dry?
Who wrests the worm from the robin
and the grub from the dirge
of the woodpecker?
Me eyes n’ands knew enuf to make a nest for me own children.
Nothing to weep for-
he wasn’t a household man.
He didn’t mind boarding a bus
carrying stuff to sell elsewhere.
Et wa’nt a fing could spike me ‘abit
Came the automobile
and the waste pickers were out of work,
even the dung beetle, that most pure consumer,
that litter monger.
Traded me horse for a lorry…
Still the calls came by telephone: fridge,
scarred Corrado parts,
claw foot tub holding weeds and offal.
T’wa’n’t more different than a raven feeding on a small dead shark-
He wasn’t as rare as the customs collector,
not as rude as the inspector
though he could hold his own
against the maw of cold.
I got th’ coppers,
they lind me pockets
like the mother-o’ pearl fools
& snortin’ their own piss-
It must have been a wet month in the hundred-year war
when he disappeared with the symbols
of the costermongers: horseshoe,
dove, heart, cross, flower pot.
But down curss me mum,
down sew me into yr bk of baryin’ beetles, blowflies, yellerjackets, r’ccoons.
Gone like the pearly kings and queens,
with no return address
but progress, the trick that grinds
its own filthy wheel.
Judith Skillman’s most recent book is Heat Lighting, New and Selected Poems 1986 – 2006, Silverfish Review Press. She is a writer, educator, editor and translator, and her work has appeared in FIELD, The Iowa Review, Poetry, and many other journals. For more information, please see www.judithskillman.com.