Ordinary things be time machines,
Containing important futures.
Surprising links to before-times.
A cardboard box that held a cheap microwave,
Taking scissors to slice along the seam of the bottom,
Pulling to break the hold the staples had,
Breaking it down…
I was 16 again, back in the storeroom
Of the S&H Green Stamps store in my hometown,
Along Main Street. There were trees along all the streets.
My first real job.
I unloaded semi-loads of stuff, boxes of stuff,
Stuff frugal people would order from catalogues,
Or walk into the store to buy with their
Carefully saved booklets of stamps.
Choosing, pushing the booklets forward like money,
Walking out with a toaster or a toolkit or a set of sheets.
So, I unloaded trucks, unpacked these things and
Put them on warehouse shelves
On the days when the trucks made deliveries
In the alley behind the store. I learned what the backsides of ordinary things looked like.
My boss taught me where things went,
(And you have a dirty mind. It was nothing like that—
Although it would have been nice to be guided
Into manhood by an older woman who cared.)
She told me what it meant to work, be there on time,
Tolerated my teenage awkwardness, trained me bit by bit,
Was firm when I failed, gentle when I tried, smiled when I needed encouragement,
Showed me how a business ran.
Talked to me about important things when things were slow,
Let me know that adults had problems, too,
Told me stories about lessons she’d learned, about
Marriage, about living. I still remember one thing,
That helped me later on. I knew it was important then, and
Held onto it somehow.
“No matter who you marry, and how much in love you are,
There will be days when you look at that person and wonder
‘what in the world did I see in them?’
The important thing is what you do next,” she said. And
Chuckled with a hint of sadness.
She did that from time to time, and laughed, at herself, at life.
Shaking her head, and getting back to work.
That’s where I learned life was in the living, moving through it.
In cardboard boxes and shelving and in the company
Of older, kinder, competent people.
I wish I could remember her name.
She was not as old as my mother, with brown hair and kind but shrewd eyes,
She taught me how to do a job, made me better, scoffed at my bullshit,
Was real and practical and beautiful.
So when the trucks came on Wednesdays,
I unloaded them, trucked boxes inside, unpacked and stocked the shelves,
But the last thing on those hard days was to take a knife,
Slice them apart and change them into flat things,
Ready to be removed, their function served.
No longer holding someone’s precious
New microwave, or tool kit or sheets made of Egyptian cotton,
Ordinary again. But so much more.