Scoundrel Time


My Midwest is two old women:
The first, a neighbor, who watched
the delivery man lug the huge spring water jug,
slung on his back like firewood, to my door.
Bulbous glass, as slippery as our icy back steps,
but foreign, exotic to her, with a name like
Poland Spring, Alhambra. So she
who had never spoken, only nodded, to me before,
stopped me in the hall to ask why wasn’t
their Iowa drinking water good enough
for me? It didn’t matter to her that the paper
published the news of nitrate runoff daily,
warning pregnant women not to drink.
I forget my answer. Maybe I joked
about my West Coast ways, though
I wanted to tell her that my husband had left
and there’d be no pregnancy, not now,
not past forty. The second old lady,
years before, had stooped low to the carpet
to retrieve my quarter that had rolled
out of the airport phone booth where
I was calling him to say I’d arrived
there in Cedar Rapids, I’d arrived safe.
And when this stranger pressed the errant coin
into my palm that day I believed I was.