Counting Change

From Yoshi’s handlebars I saw
bicycles, people, and food.
He pedaled us past rice sacks,
baskets of eels, chickens
and ducks, and called out
their numbers in words
I learned to understand
  ichi, ni, san, shi, go
his hands steady in spite of
the shifting weight of me
and the morning’s haul.
The heavy air held such fishy
and feathered sweat it made
me dizzy. It was all I could do
to hang on. I was only five.

Six decades later, I drive
down Midwestern streets
to the Saturday market,
walk by tidy rows of stalls,
check off my list in silent
vegetable English:
broccoli, spinach,
potatoes, squash.
The early morning chills
the coffee cup in my hand.
I count out loud the coins
  one ichi two ni three
I pocket as change
on a clear November day.

—Sandy Stark, Madison, WI