D’you know the sound balloon strings make when they been cut?
Tied to split knuckles, how they limply dangle there.
If Mac comes in and groans again and rubs his gut,
I’ll say, “At least you got a job. The kids just stare
At me, and then up at the red, the rubbery green.”
He knows the economics, so that’s all I’ll say:
Ten-thirty a.m. I give up and cut each string,
Then go to take a stool at Chuck’s. If kids won’t pay,
Then I don’t gotta stand, a clown at the grocery
Until the sun has made my glasses steam and glare,
And I wish I could type or something. Who wants to be
A broken vendor day in, day out? Rotting there,
The stench of vulcan in your nose, the cheap twine cutting
Into your right hand’s gritty reddening knuckles. The left
An only, last and loyal pal, its fingers clutching
The groaning flip-blade in its plastic-handled heft
To cut those unsold helium balls—the useless things.
But Mac doesn’t hardly sigh or swear at me no more,
Or ask, after I quit my work, if I will bring
A few bucks home from Chuck’s. He knows that he has scored
Points on an old wound in the ribs that hurts like lime
Sizzling on my finger-cuts. I bow my head
When he gets home from work and wipe the tar and grime
That grocery parking lot have smeared on it. I’m dead,
Those little pimply brats say, when they come and gape
At me and the bright swelling sores of my balloons.
On a good day some brat with his allowance apes
Me, buys a green and blue, and I am flush by noon.
I don’t care how they go, though it helps to sell, I guess.
I’m neither lame nor small, I cannot sing a song,
But with a low and hungry swipe at her pink dress
My free left hand sends little Isabelle along,
Since she just like her mother talks too much. The rest
Stare from the corner of their eyes on the far curb.
Unless I start to scratch my sweating pits or chest,
Then they look wide and whisper something. I disturb
Grown women, but the brats come with their popsicles
As if I were a hobo clown fired from the circus,
To see if I’ll bend down to take a few flung nickels.
Of course I will, the fucking kids. The things that hurt us
Most aren’t the hard humiliations of a job,
Or knowing I’ll never screw their mothers in their Festivas’
Back seat, but wondering if some other drooling slob
Has beat me to my stool and is shooting my tequilas.
Mac knows that kind of man, though he will never be one.
He’s got a girl, an Olds, in poker always two-pair,
While I take what I can, like a dog in mating season,
Or a balloon man in the spring happier than you are.