I imagine a heaving expanse
no shore in sight and an ice-making wind
blowing the tops off the waves.
The ocean is dark as steel except
for the blowing foam with just a little relent
near the surface, a lighter blue-gray
shot through with electricity.
There is a jolt when I reach in
with my bare hand and grab a hank
of leaves mixed with trash and toss it
onto the muddy grass median. Rainwater
is up to my ankles raising a ring of ache
within my rubber boots as I alternately
spear at the clogged drain with a length
of rebar stolen from a civic junkpile
then return the trash onto sodden land.
Every day for over two weeks
I’ve made the rounds, a kind of garbage fairy
pulling mung from overwrought grates
or a city dermatologist lancing cysts
letting the drains behave as designed.
School children at recess
sometimes come to help, plunging fists
into the turgid muck then flapping,
flightless birds that they are, squawking
outraged at their own audacity, then run
chasing each other with the residue
of primal ooze coating the tracks of their palms.
My route takes me down to the park with its lake,
a quick walk on a dry day, but in the rain
I visit and probe, dowsing the city streets
relieving blockages, releasing energy.
At night another city is revealed in the lake
ablaze with unreachable mansions
home to an untroubled, unseen population,
but during the day in the rain, there are only
a host of hearty joggers and a few drabs like me.
Each day starts with pain, my body readjusting
to vertical. There is the trouble of breakfast
to consider, the trouble of dressing, the constancy
of rain, the sweat-damp hold of my boots
gripping at my calves as I slide them on.
The first time a fat drop of rain rolls down my neck
I ask again, Is this worth it, then, What is the worth
of my effort, an old man laboring unpaid
doing something only he seems to see the value
in doing. The reason for getting up some days,
the reason to do laundry, to have clean socks
for my clammy boots, the reason to search
through the newscast and newspapers for hints
of future weather while sailing lightly
over the ripples of major events and updates.
I imagine a smooth expanse, untroubled green
sunwarm grass, solid under my back,
looking up with my eyelids shut to study
the web of my veins. Nothing more important to do
than that. No reason to head back into the rain.
It’s a dream, I tell myself, and leave my warm home
for the gray indifference of the only world I’ve known.