Upstream Neighbors

For Gerald and Elaine


I thought of you one Sunday afternoon.

I thought I’d save the world, at least the stretch

that wanders, lost, from my house to the highway,

old gray-brown winter trees lined up along

the ditch.  Dry now, in heavy rains that ditch

has carried off the flotsam of your lives.


I climbed down where the water leaves its mark,

where you leave yours, those square brown whiskey bottles,

old beer bottles, shiny cigarette wrappers,

empty cans half hidden in the grass.

All that cleaning up, I thought I’d find

a body in the ditch, a gun you tossed

aside, a shoe box filled with silver dollars.


I found instead more plastic bottles than stars

in a winter sky.  Plastic bags, plastic

cups.  In just one day I learned to hate

the two of you, and plastic. I found one of

your shoes, the broken axle to your truck,

your bathroom sink and two-year’s worth of Christmas

trees, complete with plastic stands. A good

white bucket, plastic though.  Some cable ends

the TV man left when he serviced you.


Beneath your cast-off sofa, broken and burned,

(an old boy’s special evening gone all wrong)

I found a hundred slips of paper and

your sorry misplaced note, Gerald and Elaine,

who fouled my quiet roadside with your lives


to Mr. Cato, pest exterminator:

I know you want your money for the job.

I hope that we can pay you soon enough.

But Mr. Cato, I just have to say

My wife still has those small black bugs . . .


Oh lucky Gerald, oh bug-infested Elaine,

I wish I’d found some money after all.

You could have bought my silence, I confess.

I never would have named you in a poem.