We hauled trash that summer, the three of us
an old man, a hard young man, and a boy.
Morning by afternoon there were runs
to Whitzman Bros. scrap-metal yard
and to the dump on the outskirts of town.
The job was at Poole's Garage, cleaning out
a junkyard in the vacant lot next door.
The junk had to be sorted piece by piece,
salvage to one corner, the rest on the truck.
Mornings were for the metal, heavy stuff first.
We winched up motors, bulldogged transmissions
and rear axles, bowled rims from across the lot.
When the truck was half full of iron and steel,
we would top off the load with rusty tin--
doors, trunk-covers, stove-in hoods and fenders--
and haul it all away to the scales.
Afternoons we loaded up with garbage
the boss knew no one would ever pay to have:
rotten furniture, old bones, clutch-plates, rags.
Then smeared with dirt, three-deep in the cab,
we would drive it away to the water's edge
where roaring dozers butted the mounded trash
and rancid smoke coiled out of the debris.
After the first few times it was no surprise
to see him, a skinny black man in a peaked cap,
waiting to back us around to the edge
and watch with care our careless tossing off.
He and his partners sifted each load
for something of value we had missed.
They set aside mud-filled bottles for refunds,
and wire that promised copper under the grease.
Broken boards they saved for winter fires
in windy shacks at the edge of the dump.
Their field-office crowned a hill of junk.
Two-by-fours and a door-frame held it up,
a rotten canvas canopy sagging above
old car seats and a disemboweled chair
where they dogged it when business was slow.
An ancient ice-box squatted to one side,
and from the door-frame hung a cowbell, clapperless.
Their look-out beat it with a tire-iron
when the police cruiser nosed into view.
The man sold bootleg liquor on the side.
On the day's last trip, and sometimes its first,
Grandad and Stu would buy a pint from him,
offer him a swallow and stand round his lean-to
drinking and yarning in the sunny stench.
They'd forget about Poole, his ninety cents an hour,
the black wind drifting low over the burning,
and I, just a kid then, would watch them,
listen carefully, begin to learn how it was
a man could live like this, if he had to.