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Saturday, January 02, 2010


by Ray Brown

Life itself recognizes no holidays.
The earth turns.
Holidays, artificial constructs to keep us busy, distracted.

He thought the worst was over.
          thought he was safe.

To make it to the end of 2009, and still have a job -
he breathed a sigh of relief.
After that it did something for his ego,
for as he saw his fellow workers laid off
he thought perhaps his bosses noticed something in him -
but today, December 23rd,
he found himself with a numbered tab,
pulled - as if at the deli or bakery.
If he had a computer, he could have preregistered on-line,
but a year ago they had given up home internet service,
when their real estate taxes grew ten percent,
and he received a 7.5 % wage reduction.
He had not yet discovered
the free computer internet service at the County library.

To stand in line a failure, is a difficult thing.
The date made it no easier. In the same plaza
a Wal-Mart packed with shoppers finishing their Christmas lists –
He and his wife had told everyone they
would not be exchanging gifts,
though they would do something relatively small –
for the children.

In a line, it seems all eyes are upon you
not as if anyone was here to look at him.
All jobless,
most wondering
why them?
why here?
why now?
most just worried about the next day.

He was surprised given the date, the hour
that they made him stand in a shorter line next door
to see one of a few counselors
about possible job placement, vocational rehabilitation.
The questionnaire somewhat distracted him from his plight.
He pushed back from the former school house desk,
given an appointment to return
he retraced his steps out to the front door,
but unlike Hansel and Gretel
hung onto the few bread crumbs they threw him
then turned right towards his car
which he was glad had not been reposed, there,
in the unemployment parking lot.

He passed a homeless man, head on a stack of newspapers,
bundled in a coat which clearly had seen better days,
now worn through by the night cold,
body resting against the warmth of the building
which both absorbed, then radiated back, the winter sun.

He shuffled 20 yards further along the sidewalk
approached by a hand with a paper cup,
their common gait uncanny,
this fellow traveler sought change for a coffee.
Only now he realized that when he had the money he would
look askance, disdainfully, as he passed this hand
going into the Wal-Mart to shop with this children.
Now when he could least afford it
he took his only quarter
placed it with some deliberateness in the cup:

. . . when he had much, he appreciated little about what he had--
and now, when he had little,
he appreciated much more, the little he had.

Ray Brown lives in Frenchtown, NJ. He is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and Rutgers-The State University of New Jersey. His poetry has appeared in the 13th Annual Poetry Ink Chapbook, Moonstone Publishing, Philadelphia; The Star-Ledger of Newark; NJ Lawyer Magazine; and previously in The New Verse News. He received a NJ Poetry Society 2009 Recognition Award, and will be published in upcoming volumes of the Edison Literary Review, the Big Hammer, FreeXpresSion, and the River Poets Journal.