Telegram Messenger Boy

July 22, 2012
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--In response to a photograph of a telegram boy
from Elkins, West Virginia in the local companion
to the Smithsonian exhibit “The Way We Worked”

The little boy with a pocketful of words
and a spring in his step
wears out the leather shoes
that his mother shined.

On the morning of his first day
she leaned
with hunched shoulders,
and buffed marks off his shoes
the way priests exorcise demons.

She said
“Be polite
and tell all the people
‘Have a nice day sir’
or ‘Have a nice day ma’am’
and if you get too tired, sit down
and take a rest.”

She stood him up then,
brushed his shoulders off and said
“Your father would have been so proud of you.
You look just like him you know.”

Turning him around gently,
she sent him out the door.
His first steps took him
from his Mother’s arms, in to the dawn [world].
His thoughts repeated
‘Oh, I hope I do a good job.
I hope I do a good job.’

Every day since then he has carried
messages to neighbors, teachers, friends-
his thin little fingers tucked in his pocket,
feeling its bumpy seam, the thin papers.
With him walk the small town whispers.
He knocks on the door, hands the telegram over
“You’re welcome ma’am” and turns his back.
Behind him he leaves
joy, tragedy, heartbreak, comfort.

But he walks on-
for even though those fingers get tired
and the shoes Mama shined get dirty,
the telegram messenger boy still carries
the words of the town
in his pocket,
and the weight of his family
on his back.

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