Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Collector

The Collector


If you’re his wife, you’ve quit
asking why it all piles up out there
in the yard for everyone to see
from the highway.  Hubcaps from ghostly coupes.
Beer signs in neon cursive.  Coke machines,
cars, cars, cars.  You keep the house
and the backyard according to your principles.
You hate the mechanism in men
that drives them to love machinery.

If you’re his dog, you
urinate on tires encircling weeds.
You sniff varieties of rust,
chase squirrels until they disappear,
until you ram your hot wet nose
into angle iron; it all
makes the yard difficult.

Now, supposing you’re the younger son,
you don’t hate him yet.
Your friends think he’s a wealthy man,
a pirate maybe; they beg
their parents to let them come over,
Crawl through doorless cars, turn
cranks, patent imaginary uses

for useless contraptions.  You know
what it’s all for.  It’s there
to look at, to touch; it’s part
of a big landscape that whirls by
every day outside of School.

You’re the collector.  You can’t
help yourself. You’ll fix one thing
and trade it away for three things
you can’t fix.  The dog pisses on it all,
knocks over cans going after squirrels,
laps up rust-water.  You can’t
keep The neighbor-kids away. 

The younger boy, he follows you around
all day asking What’s this for?  What’s
this for?  You can’t understand why
your wife can’t understand why iron
and motors and axles are necessary,                                       
why strewn is the best way to keep
it all in order.

You stare right back at people
who drive by and scowl at your yard.
You know they’re driving junk.
Their houses are filled with junk that works.
You’ll get hold of it soon enough.


Hans Ostrom, from The Coast Starlight: Collected Poems 1976-2006
Post a Comment