Earning My Keep
by Helen Wickes
Helen Wickes lives in Oakland, California, and worked for many years as a psychotherapist. In 2002 she received an M.F.A. from Bennington College. Her first book of poems, In Search of Landscape, was published in 2007 by Sixteen Rivers Press. Her poems can be read and heard online at From The Fishouse. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in AGNI Online, Atlanta Review, Confrontation, Eclipse, Evansville Review, RiverSedge, Sanskrit, South Dakota Review, Stand, Runes, ZYZZYVA, Zone 3, Chicago Quarterly Review, The Collagist, Natural Bridge, Santa Clara Review, Limestone, The Spoon River Poetry Review, Bryant Literary Review, Eclectica, Ellipsis, Southwestern American Literature, Soundings East, Verdad, The Coe Review, Crucible, The Jabberwock Review, Kaleidoscope, Pleiades, PMS poemmemoirstory, SLAB, The Griffin, Salamander, Epicenter, Barnstorm, Poetry Flash, In the Grove, CQ, CSPS, Freshwater, Schuylkill Valley Journal of the Arts, Softblow, 5 AM, the Bennington Review, and the anthology Best of the Web 2009.
Sold Almond Joys in eighth-grade snack shop,
nannied three brats, their mommy too,
one long, Connecticut summer. Spent time
checking in your general psychotics, schizoids,
your ruined and wracked at a local county bin.
And spent the greatest summer of a life
and pieces of many years, hosing the legs
of thoroughbreds, wrapping their legs,
scrubbing buckets, flinging hay, brushing
the lustrous shoulders and gleaming flanks. . . .
And during my interminable loser phase,
sold girdles — not well — at 22nd and Mission,
drove a school bus through Chinatown,
eyes shut downshifting 4,3,2. . ., carried mail,
possibly yours, cursing your stupid catalogs,
and bussed dishes, took your orders, sir,
what would you prefer, or ma'am, may I suggest. . . .
Sold books, shall I put it on hold for you?
listened for decades into the undertones
of the distressed. In short, earned my keep,
not brilliantly. Memories, regrets, no gold watch,
mostly joy, much unknown, as yet unlearned.
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