Saturday, January 14, 2012

Poem: Fifties Trilogy

Fifties Trilogy
For Joe Nichols
Clear glass bottles
Filled with creamy white liquid
Were on the top step
Of the red brick row houses
In the morning when we awoke.
The empties were gone.
All this happened before dawn
While we slept and dreamed
Of nothing better
Than clear glass bottles
Filled with creamy white liquid
On the top step
In the morning when we awoke.

Butter and Egg Man
Joe was in the war with dad.
Each Saturday his truck with squeaky brakes,
the curb side door always open,
would roll to a noisy stop
in front of our corner row house in Philly.
Joe would climb the steps and ring the bell,
enter carrying his wicker basket
filled with butter, eggs, cheese and lunch meat,
trailing the cool smell of refrigeration
from the reach-in in his truck.
Through the tiny living and dining rooms
into the tinier kitchen,
there my mother would wait
to make her weekly purchase. 

Shy but rugged Joe,
his weathered face and hands,
his slightly crooked smile,
like Gary Cooper in a Western.
I think he was sweet on mom.
It went both ways,
but who would ever know. 

Joe, the butter and egg man.
He was in the war with dad. 

“Red ripe New Jersey tomatoes,
three pounds for half a dollar!
Sweet corn, sweet corn, ripe peaches and plums!”
Down the narrow alley the huckster would drive
calling out his summer temptations,
his strong voice echoing and beckoning
in the red brick canyons like a Siren’s song.
And the women would pour out the basement doors
in their aprons, their hands wet with dishes or wash,
carrying small snap purses with just enough change
to transform another predictable dinner
into a fresh and sumptuous feast. 

The tanned huckster, flashing his white teeth
and practiced smile, the one the ladies liked,
his fast hands weighing on a hanging scale,
brown bagging in a magic flash, like a shell game carny.
And as the women retreated, one by one,
back to their day’s work,
his voice drifted and faded
around the next corner, into the next canyon,
“Red ripe New Jersey tomatoes,
Three pounds for half a dollar!”


  1. There is still a milk company making deliveries in our neighborhood. It makes me feel good whenever I see the truck pull up to the house down the street.

    1. Not many of those left. We also had a bread man and every Saturday morning the beer distributor picked up and dropped off a case of long necks at the back dooor.

  2. The Helms Bakery truck! The Fuller Brush man! The World Book Encyclopedia guy! This poem evokes images of all these people. The amazing thing is that these guys made a living and raised families doing these jobs.