Andrew Hubbard recently moved back to Indiana after ten years in Houston, Texas. He has had five books published, including, most recently, his first book of poetry, "Things That Get You," which was produced by Interactive Press.
Big John’s Liquors
Near dark on a short November day,
Cold, hard rain pouring down
And the little liquor store
Bright, hot, full of dripping customers.
The man ahead of me at checkout
Was a homeless guy
With sunken cheeks
And a snarl of broken teeth
He had a stocking cap,
And to keep the rain off
A big sheet of clear plastic
With a slit cut for his head.
He was buying a pint of Popov vodka
And paying with coins
From a zippered coin purse
Embroidered with lions.
(I imagined the purse
Was a gift from his daughter,
Made in Girl Scouts 25 years ago
And carried with him
In his lonely, forgotten life ever since.)
He takes forever to pay
Counting dimes and pennies
With shaking hands,
And fingers bent weirdly at the first knuckle.
The girl behind the counter
Rolls her eyes and runs a hand
Through her short, crayola-pink hair.
I throw a dollar on the counter
And say, Put this toward his bill please.”
She looks at me with such a mix of emotions
They cancel each other out and it’s just a look.
He looks at me and doesn’t know what to say.
I look at him and don’t know what to say either.
Eventually he mumbles something
That might be “thank you” to the floor
And shuffles out into the rain
With the so-precious bottle.
Joy takes her pills at night…
So many the bottles fill
A whole shelf in the plastic medicine cabinet
(Another shelf is pills in push-out sheets.)
She coughs herself to sleep
And coughing, wakes at one or two
With bladder pressure supreme.
She limps desperately to the toilet
And usually makes it.
She coughs herself awake
And dresses for work:
The underwear’s a struggle
And eggplant breasts
Squash to pumpkin thighs
When the shoes have to go on.
Then it’s two buses
And a long, grim walk
To her job of filing
At the Fishing License Bureau.
By noon she has a headache
And at two her back starts in.
In the cold and dark
Joy does the bus rides in reverse.
At home she sprinkles hot sauce
On a can of ravioli and thinks
Her name is the worst joke ever made.
My hometown has a park,
A rectangle ruled North by South
A hundred yards wide; a thousand yards long.
It’s flanked by the usual small-city streets
And the usual small-city shops.
At one end stands the usual World War II monument
Of a soldier charging forward, foot raised, bayonet fixed.
At the other end, something new
A Vietnam memorial: a polished granite column
With names inscribed, a lot of names.
Otherwise, the park looks about the same
As when my mother brought me here
With peanut butter sandwiches and oatmeal cookies
And I played marbles or tag with the other kids.
I walk very slowly,
Many parts of me hurt,
And some are missing.
The park looks the same
But it doesn’t feel the same.
I know why of course
You see things through the sum
Of your experiences, and I’ve had quite a few
Since I was here last.
A motorcycle backfires
And I jump convulsively.
I stand still minute after minute
Until my heart slows down.
Along the park border I see two men
Beginning to put up Christmas decorations.
That hasn’t changed, and it’s a comfort.
The green, slatted benches
Are still here, seamed with initials
Of couples by the hundred.
I can make out one:
JH and Jen April 9.
No year. Of course not.
When you’re the age to carve on park benches
There is only one year: this one.
A hundred yards further, the next bench
Holds a curiosity—an old man
Wrapped in an overcoat ten sizes too large
Sound asleep, back to me, one leg bent,
One very straight, maybe a prosthesis.
Back in the day he would have been called a vagrant
And thrown in jail.
Now his sort
Is multiplying everywhere.
A squirrel bustles up,
Stops in front of him,
And sits up.
Never has a ragged lump of destitution
Been stared at so long and hard.
I stop and try to get into the squirrel’s head
He’s evaluating the guy
As a potential source of peanuts.
I am swept with admiration
For one whose universe
Is so simple and guileless.
I walk as quickly as I can
To the street, across it, and to a shop
Coming back with a big bag of peanuts.
I can’t help grinning
At being a god-like provider
Of wealth and happiness
To one so beautiful and direct.
The squirrel’s gone
But I expected that.
I fling peanuts all around me
Lavishly. I know he’ll find them.
And I think:
He’s doing more for me
Than I am for him.
Meanwhile, the man has not moved
Any more than the statues
And I think perhaps he is a third monument
Although to what, exactly, I am not sure.