The soil here is full of shells,
whole neighborhoods built on calcium fill.
When we moved here, as I opened
each brown box, I found more: jars full,
from both coasts of Florida, all
the Jersey beaches of my childhood.
Who were these angelwings, cowries, cockles,
moonshells, oysters, whelks?
Common-as-dirt on my desk, a clamshell
holds paper clips in its purple bowl,
this skeleton shaped so differently from my own.
It happens when a pink-rumped
piggy bank next to a jar of
Anti Monkey Butt
bumps against a lump
of purple Play-Doh
up to a copy of Plato,
a rusted-out sump pump
motor sprawls atop
a plastic straw boater
where a clump of barbed wire overruns
a CD of Car Talk’s
“Stump the Chump”
as an umpire’s padded vest unstuffs
all over a sprung snare
then you come
to a dumb-
tangled in some
faded photos of rooks and choughs
on a plumber’s snake
draped across velvet curtain swags
whose design reminds you of the kerchief
your mother put on
along with faux-leather
and a tweed coat,
when she left you alone
at the bedroom window
down the row-house block
and you had
if she was ever
Back when our choices were white or rye,
my father rose pre-dawn to load his truck.
He left fresh loaves on cold back porches,
flirted with housewives, collected their orders,
showed them my school pictures every year.
Once, when I was in Middlesex Hospital,
a customer whose name I didn’t know
gave me a rag doll with a quilted coat.
Then, when supermarket chains killed
home delivery, dad drove his truck
to A&P and Acme’s loading docks.
He made his daily quota with no joy,
missing the gossip that would leaven
the miles of route he drove each week.
By then I was in high school. At bedtime,
I made the next day’s sandwich for my dad.
I spread the mayo evenly, crust to crust,
precisely lining up salami slices,
iceberg lettuce, white American cheese.
I added a folded napkin and slice of cake,
placing the small brown bag inside the fridge
for Dad to grab when he left at three a.m.
Twelve hours later, while he dozed,
half waking every time the Yankees scored
a run, I’d open him a Ballantine,
eager to hear, during a commercial,
whether he liked the lunch I made for him,
made, as always, from a leftover loaf.