Steady Pay

he'd come home
and toss his pocket change 
in a bucket
change from bourbon and cokes
at the bar
or from hot dogs and popcorn
at the ball field
or the movie house
change from 
and blue plate specials
from when he was working
for good and steady pay

tossing them in
to the dead clink
of metal on metal
letting the coins pile up
dumping it every few years
in the machine that counted it
the machine
taking its 10 percent
worth it
since there was steady pay
and things better to do
than counting change
better things
like a woman
and her music
her drinks
her travel

until later
after the woman left
and he retired
along with most of the looks
and body
of his youth
that he still had
a bit of 
back then
when the woman
and all that good pay
were still around
but all gone now
along with the lunchtime
blue plate specials
along with the steady pay
now a monthly check
as the tide
in that bucket of coins
no longer rising
so fast
his money parked safely
in accounts
and the billfold now
instead of flowing so freely
in the bars
or ballparks
or boardwalks

without that steady pay
and without her
the bars
the music
the travel
all gone stale
giving him
nowhere to go
nothing else to do
as an old man
but dump the bucket
every day
counting and arranging his coins
in different ways
occasionally dipping into it
for cigarettes
and beers at home
instead of bars

arranging his coins
by color
and size
by edge
plain or reeded
increasing and decreasing amounts
counting and stacking and shuffling
like rooks on a chessboard
for hours
every day
dumping it back in the bucket
at the end
to begin all over again

people had said
look at all that change
by sight
the hundreds of dollars
the machine always counted
for him 
no big deal
with his steady pay
a woman to court
and people to see
things to do
places to go

while today
there's nothing
but that bucket of change
always lighter
than yesterday
as the metal tide
ebbs out
a little more
day by day

dwindled now
to $75.23
so instead of just arranging
and counting
all day long
before that ritual
he dumps it
to savor each coin
as if a precious gem
or stone
memorizing dates
and scratches
committing to memory
the smell
daydreaming of where they've traveled
and what all they've been used
to purchase
as if their exploits
by means of his possession
are somehow 
a bit his
squeezing and rubbing them
as if some of where they've been
what they've done
what they've purchased
like luck
might rub off on him
to possess him with more
than the memories
he has

and calculating
what should be left
based on extractions
for yesterday's
beer and cigarettes
at home
pleased in the win
of his daily calculations
as pleased with himself
as if his team of old
had won a playoff game
of whether the coopers
will stack to even or odd
a satisfaction
in being right
half the time
a satisfaction
better than anything done
in the past
with her

there's more to the wold than that bucket of change
a friend said
and there was
when the woman cared
but when she stopped
for good enough reason
he did too
stopped caring about it all
except his bucket of change
rising less
as the beers and bourbon
at the bars
as the music and games
and all other pleasures
seeming frivolous
and too expensive
as more and more of the bills
remained unbroken
or sitting in accounts
as mere numbers
sometimes odd
and other times

there's still places
where old men gather
to watch games
and have the younger men
with their steady pay
and their fine women
offer the old hounds drinks
where long-lived men
tell their stories
over and over again
between rotations on jukeboxes
between halves
and quarters
and periods
of games
while the younger ones
mostly drink
and watch
as they should

but those places
don't exist
for the one
who has nothing
but his dwindling
bucket of coins
at his friends
from back in the day
when he had steady pay
who don't come around
to listen
about his coinage
his rapture
in the calculations
of a day's proper guess
whether it all adds up
to odd or even
out buying cigarettes
seeing them
inviting them over
to engage in the glories
of counting his change too
and when rejected
seeing them again
offering beer
purchased with the nickels and dimes
of his soul
the pocket change of eternity
telling them
then bring your own change
and we can count ours together
soaked in the delight
and satisfaction
of his creativity
turning plain coins
and their counting
into something majestic
like an artist
turning junk
into a museum piece
intoxicated with the desire to share
this revelation
too intoxicated
to ever heed their words 
they're merely coins
and nothing else
just like their own coins
better spent
on decent company
on beer
in bars
not that much different
than back then

choosing those places
and halls
where old men gather
for games
and the occasional 
free drink
purchased by bucks
who still have 
steady pay
those old men
choosing to live a bit
while they still can
instead of dying
by pretending
that pocket change
no matter how much
is some substitute for life
them knowing
it isn't an escape
or anything eternal
that pocket change
isn't anything more 
than a few
dollars and cents
best spent
on a few 
a few songs
on the jukebox

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