Picking Up

First published in StringTown #9, 2006, and then in Floating Bridge Review #1, 2008.


I don’t know any other toddlers

who line things up like he does.

He arranges flakes of cereal across the breakfast table,

making roads across the map of his world.

He takes all the bottles out of a case of bottled water,

arranging them in rows on the kitchen floor

—ranks of soldiers or dominoes that never do battle

or fall victim to a chain reaction.

He unstacks diapers to make them divide the family room,

sorted in lines of Elmo and Buzz Lightyear diapers

and other characters whose names I’ve not yet learned.

Then he pulls my hand and we play

at the toy piano while my wife makes an inexpensive lunch.


I wonder if there are any job prospects in lining things up,

or if having such a skill might help his newly unemployed father

find a job. The sky is dull outside, with a new round of rain

in the forecast, and I pick up the water bottles, sweep up

the cereal flakes with the edge of my hand. We play a counting game

on my fingers till he tires and turns to the diapers.

For a moment he contemplates a Buzz Lightyear,

as if there was something he was about to say,

then he picks up all the diapers by himself.