Poetry Sunday: To the Garbage Collectors in Bloomington, Indiana, the First Pickup of the New Year by Philip Appleman

Today, let us celebrate those who do the necessary work of collecting our refuse and thus keeping our neighborhoods nice and tidy. Philip Appleman wrote a poem about them. So here for the garbage collectors in Bloomington, Indiana and in my town and yours...

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

by Philip Appleman

(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.


  1. Now here's the thing about garbage pick up. Most days the truck gets to our street late morning or early afternoon. The only thing to make them come early is when I forget to put it at the kerb before first light! Then they show up at 7:00 am. Fortunately we put out very little and we segregate all the recyclables and the food waste. Once you commit to zero waste, or close to it, it's amazing how simple it becomes not to produce mounds of trash.

    1. I'm not at all surprised that you do not produce mounds of trash and good on you!

  2. I do not think that I had ever read Appleman before. I like this poem. It is unusual. I may see what else Appleman has written.

  3. For some reason this made me chuckle but I like this one. Never read a poem like it!

  4. We are fortunate to have such an organized removal of garbage in America. He captures it well in the poem.

  5. I rarely get to see the garbage men do their work - they usually come to my neighborhood after I leave for work. But, when I retire, I hope to be in my percale cocoon. Loved this poem - these people deserve our respect - it's a hard job, especially in summer, and only appreciated if they go on strike.

    1. So true of many things in life - we only learn to appreciate it when it's gone.

  6. when was this poem first written


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