The ones too broke or wise to get parts
by Linda Gregerson
from a dealer come here where the mud is red
and eternal. Eight front ends
are stacked on girders he salvaged too.
Ask for Bruce, he said on the phone, and doesn’t
crack a smile when you show up.
Twenty-four fifty if we find one, sister.
Bruce, it says on his coveralls, and Bruce
on the ones his helper wears. The routine’s so good
they’re keeping it. The taillight you can have.
Except for the traffic, the wrong parts of Baltimore
aren’t so bad: each house pulling
its straightest face, the curbs and stoops
lined up like a man inverting his pockets
to show he’s got nothing to hide. Construction
sites gone aimless and the detours
feeling more like home. You know
where to find a cheap lunch. Up front,
a woman hears the list through twice
before, as to a sweet and original
prompting, she picks fried trout.
Likewise the oyster shucker, pretending
you’ve asked for a straw with your beer.
He searches the counter above which reigns
a picture of Washington Stokes, retired,
who cleaned fish to order for fifty-nine years.
A girl on a schedule deserves
what she gets, and sometimes gets it kindly, earned
or no. Untouched by heat of sun or city
police, the fair-haired accommodate best
by having everything to learn.
But here comes your beer without a straw,
as though good nature were common as thirst.
Here’s Washington Stokes, who would understand
the strategy that lets the fool go free.