Poetry Sunday: To the Garbage Collectors...

For our first Poetry Sunday of 2016, how about something a little different? 

Here's a poem that celebrates a group of people who we too often overlook but who we depend upon to do their necessary work to keep our society functioning. First responders get all the glory, but where would we be without these guys and their weekly pickups? Knee-deep in garbage to start with.

To the Garbage Collectors in Bloomington, Indiana, the First Pickup of the New Year

(the way bed is in winter, like an aproned lap,   
    like furry mittens,
    like childhood crouching under tables)
The Ninth Day of Xmas, in the morning black   
outside our window: clattering cans, the whir   
of a hopper, shouts, a whistle, move on ...   
I see them in my warm imagination
the way I’ll see them later in the cold,
heaving the huge cans and running
(running!) to the next house on the street.

My vestiges of muscle stir
uneasily in their percale cocoon:
what moves those men out there, what
drives them running to the next house and the next?   
Halfway back to dream, I speculate:
The Social Weal? “Let’s make good old
    Bloomington a cleaner place
    to live in—right, men? Hup, tha!
Healthy Competition? “Come on, boys,
    let’s burn up that route today and beat those dudes   
    on truck thirteen!”
Enlightened Self-Interest? “Another can,
    another dollar—don’t slow down, Mac, I’m puttin’
    three kids through Princeton?”
Or something else?

A half hour later, dawn comes edging over   
Clark Street: layers of color, laid out like
a flattened rainbow—red, then yellow, green,
and over that the black-and-blue of night   
still hanging on. Clark Street maples wave   
their silhouettes against the red, and through   
the twiggy trees, I see a solid chunk   
of garbage truck, and stick-figures of men,   
like windup toys, tossing little cans—
and running.

All day they’ll go like that, till dark again,   
and all day, people fussing at their desks,   
at hot stoves, at machines, will jettison
tin cans, bare evergreens, damp Kleenex, all   
things that are Caesar’s.

O garbage men,
the New Year greets you like the Old;   
after this first run you too may rest
in beds like great warm aproned laps
and know that people everywhere have faith:   
putting from them all things of this world,   
they confidently bide your second coming.


I love that last verse. It says it all really, doesn't it? "People everywhere have faith" that the garbage men will come. 


  1. You are right, Dorothy, that's a sector so overlooked but we depend on them so.

    1. This poem proves, I think, that a real poet can make poetry out of anything!

  2. Sorry to be the contrary one, but this poem made me think of novels set in poor or economically broken areas where the garbage is not picked up. Just sayin'.

    1. Well, again it just emphasizes the importance of the work they do. Garbage pickup is an essential for a pleasant and well-ordered life. The quality of life of those in economically deprived areas would be immediately enhanced by someone picking up the garbage.

  3. I'm sad for a society with such a throw-away mentality. The produce sold in plastic boxes instead of easy-to-recycle plastic bags (or are they dumped in the ocean, who knows?), all the plastic packaging on everything for that matter, having to have a new everything, disposable this and that, etc. But I do appreciate the garbage men and would hope they can make a decent living at their jobs. That is a well-written poem.

    1. I was quite struck by the both the structure of the poem and its message and I think you've caught its spirit quite well. I couldn't agree more with your sentiments about about our "throw-away mentality." I was interested to see that France has recently passed a law making it illegal for grocery stores to throw away damaged or imperfect food. They have to donate it instead. We could use such a law here.


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