Two Poems


On My Honor

Our small town had only one troop – Catholics and Protestants
together once a week – Mrs. Brady leading us on nature walks,
or teaching us to sew our badges to our sashes. We got along
at meetings, then went our separate ways – Catholics
to Holy Angels playground, Protestants to Freedom Park. 
One day, Mrs. Brady brought a new girl in, introduced her
with a tight bright smile. The girl’s name was Sarah,
and Robin Richards whispered, She’s a Jew,
and the rest of the meeting was quiet. Sarah came back
a few times. She worked on her badges in silence, shoulders
slumped, head bent low over the table. The rest of us began
to stay after meetings, Catholics and Protestants gossiping
together in groups. We repeated our parents’ comments
about the Jews moving in, asked each other how anyone could
not go to church on Sunday. When Sarah quit coming, we
pretended to be sorry. At the end of each meeting, we stood
tall in matching green jumpers, our sashes covered
with badges of accomplishment. We recited the pledge, our right
hands held to Christian foreheads in perfect Girl Scout salutes.


On My Way Home from Volunteering at the Literacy Center Today

Feeling virtuous in my ’92 Ford, I see a man walking.

He pulls two red shopping carts piled high
with Wal-Mart bags, some crumpled clothes,
a colorful collection of aluminum cans,
a book with a dark green cover.

I wonder what he reads.

It’s cold today – fall’s first winter warning. 
The heater in my Ford still works.

The man wears washed-out jeans, worn
down work boots, a plaid flannel shirt
as thin and faded as his face.

He crosses the street,
jerks the carts
behind him –
one with each hand.
The curbs
give him trouble.

I drive home. The old Ford purrs. I pull into my garage.

On my way inside, I pick three nearly red tomatoes before
the frost comes tonight, then set them on the kitchen sill
to ripen in the last of the afternoon sun. I hang my jacket
on the back of a chair, put the kettle on for tea, 
and move the thermostat from off to heat.

—Jean Preston, Kenosha, WI