His black lunch box had two flip-up latches, and a silver handle
along its curved top. A small thermos
always hung on a wire rack above
two sandwiches in waxed paper.
He carried it cradled under
his arm against the faded blue
of his shirt, and he'd often say,
``Son, you'll never have a thing as
long as you carry one of these.''
He spoke with a sadness in his
voice. He never liked school and dropped
out - played baseball, golf, and boxed -
playing to stay independent,
but never quite making the pros,
or going back to school. Always,
the regrets, the compensations
after the opportunities past,
and the snows got deeper, deeper
than he had ever expected.
When he died his lunch box slid off
the pantry shelf and barked like a
dog whetting its claws in damp grass.
It followed me to school, groaning
at my feet, unused to the smell
of books and oiled floors, typical
then at the university.
It yawned, snapping its catches open
and shut in Indian summer
and on those first warm days of spring.
It disappeared for months during
graduate school. When I read Keats
aloud it slunk behind the house.
I read Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge,
Milton, Shakespeare, John Stuart Mill;
it began to sleep more and more,
waking up emaciated
and cranky at exam times.
It never liked pondering things,
or the dull drone of rhetoric.
It lives down in the basement now,
but sits well in my pickup truck
and likes driving in the country.
It's funny how often lately
it creeps up the stairs and wants out.
I crack the basement door for some
trifling reason and there it
sits, its handle cocked on one hinge,
unrusted after twenty years
and more. I should throw it away.
But some things are not easily
discarded. Late at night, marking
papers, I hear its top open
and bang shut; and mornings as I
slip on my coat, cinch up my tie,
and think about the days ahead,
and remember him going to work
and his warning, I hear again
its handle chafing against wire
hinges - always fighting a leash.