Friday, August 31, 2018

"What Sort of Man" by Lowell Jaeger, Contest Judge

What Sort of Man

zips into a soiled red jumpsuit and pushes a broom?
Clears the plazuela, walkways, and greens.
"Soiree" Ink & Watercolor on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
Keeps the fountain clean.  Sweeps cigarette butts,
gum wrappers, sticky discarded popsicle sticks,
plastic cup-lids. And dog shit.

The red jumpsuit says, Departmento de Parques.
He’s working for us, and though it should single him out
— a cardinal in a field of sparrows —
this man melds into the jumpsuit like camouflage.

He’s invisible to los estudiantes de la universidad
who spit their smokes and crush them.  Faceless 
to dog-walkers and aristocratic poodles, unleashed.
No obstacle to lovers who loiter nearby.
Just an empty pair of scuffed shoes to dark suits
hurrying past, tossing trash and missing the can.

I noticed him . . . because a devilish wind
stole pages from my notebook, and he ran
to help me gather my scribbles
scattered in the gutter across the street.
Gracias, I said and clasped in mis manos, clean and soft,
his gnarled knuckles and ragged nails.
De nada, he said.  De nada.  Kept his eyes downcast.

Noticed him at noon retrieve a brown sack
from a forked branch in a tree.  And his hat
hung on another branch, same tree.  His office,
I guessed.  And noticed his granddaughter in navy blue
school uniform come to visit and share his tortillas,
help him hoist his waste buckets into dumpsters.

Noticed she hugged him.  Noticed him waving, adios.
Heard him holler, Gracias, Maria.  Gracias por todo!

--Lowell Jaeger

Poet’s Notes:  Let us now praise the men and women who do the hard necessary jobs – the ditch diggers, the septic pumpers, the dishwashers, and the oil-patch roughnecks – people with thickly calloused hands like catchers’ mitts, people with sun-baked brows, people with aching backs who get up each day and go at it again. How do they keep moving? Why, so often, are they invisible to us, not just their value, but also their physical presence in a world that couldn’t keep going without them?  

I’ve written poems in praise of grocery clerks, sewer-doers, carpenters, taxi drivers, and small engine repairmen. I’ve never forgotten the years my dad carried a lunch bucket to work and trudged home exhausted in the evening.  Look around you; each sunrise unacknowledged angels dress in coveralls and work boots to go forth and hold the planet upright on its axis.

If you haven’t traveled to central Mexico, I urge you to go.  If you think the border towns and beach towns are the real Mexico, you’re wrong.  The quiet beauty of the old Spanish colonial villages lifts my spirits, and la gentil gente de México remind me how the simple things in life are the most precious.  When my wife and I wander the streets of Mexico City, or Morelia, or Oaxaca, we see neighbors and friends allotting time to sit and converse in la plaza pequeña.  We see mothers, fathers, and children walking hand in hand.  We question the pace of our own rat-race lives.  No lives are without struggle I know.  But Mexico teaches me I’ve invented a lot of my troubles all on my own.

I was proofing my book How Quickly What’s Passing Goes Past while my wife and I sipped coffees under the umbrella of a street side café in Mexico when the little drama in the poem “What Sort of Man” unfolded pretty much exactly as I’ve described it. A central theme in the poems of my book is how much of our lives go by without us stopping to witness and appreciate our circumstances and our days.  The old park attendant, he didn’t spend his days writing poems; he was a living poem. 

Editor’s Note:  What a finish to such a delightful and insightful month of poems by Montana Poet Laureate Lowell Jaeger!  Lowell will be the guest judge for the 5th annual Songs of Eretz Poetry Award Contest which will officially kick off tomorrow, September 1, and end on October 15.

The contest is the only fundraiser for Songs of Eretz and a fun way to show your support.  The future of Songs of Eretz depends almost entirely on how well the contest does.  So, if you are a poet, I hope to see an entry from you soon.  If you are not a poet, please consider sponsoring one you know or sending us an annual donation.

“What Sort of Man” was previously published in The Kindness of Strangers Anthology, and Or Maybe I Drift Off Alone.

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