"Two Scavengers in a Truck, Two Beautiful People in a Mercedes"
At the stoplight waiting for the light
nine a.m. downtown San Francisco
a bright yellow garbage truck
with two garbagemen in red plastic blazers
standing on the back stoop
one on each side hanging on
and looking down into
an elegant open Mercedes
with an elegant couple in it
in a hip three-piece linen suit
with shoulder-length blond hair and sunglassed
The young blond woman so casually coifed
with short skirt and coloured stockings
on the way to his architect's office
And the two scavengers up since four a.m.
grungy from their route
on the way home
The older of the two with grey iron hair
and hunched back
looking down like some
And the younger of the two
also with sunglasses and long hair
about the same age as the Mercedes driver
And both scavengers gazing down
as from a great distance
at the cool couple
as if they were watching some odourless TV ad
in which everything is always possible
And the very red light for an instant
holding all four close together
as if anything at all were possible
across that small gulf
in the high sea
of this democracy.
I discovered this poem through the blog of Gabriela Sellart who left a comment on this blog last week. Gabriela is an English teacher in
Personally, I too like this poem very much, though it may seem just a little bland. Perhaps, some of you may have guessed by now my taking to social issues, through the choices of some of the poems I share, or more likely, the nature of my comments I leave behind here and there.
In this poem, two garbage collectors in their truck are waiting at the traffic lights along with a hip, young couple in a Mercedes. A descriptive contrast is set up between the two, as is suggested by the title of the poem. The couple are in fashionable clothes; the man in his “hip three-piece linen suit”, the woman all dolled up in probably the latest trend for the season.
The subtle handling of these little details of similarities and differences marks the craft of this poem, which leads on to the final stanza where all four individuals are held together “for an instant” at the red traffic light, equal and yet not quite equal; “as if anything at all were possible” (for the two garbage collectors), and where “everything is always possible” (for the young couple), just before they go / zoom off to different destinations.PS. One could off course read the poem differently from this socially inflected light
While all are subjected equally to traffic laws, there are the unspoken ‘laws’ of class and social differences that separate people. Indeed, I would honestly acknowledge my own privileged position, having enjoyed the many benefits of a good university education, for whom there are those both in my country and other parts of the world are deprived. It is then through poetry such as these (which I learn to appreciate through the education I received) that reminds me of the necessary ‘sympathy’ with one’s fellow men, according them the same dignity and the humanity both they and I share (whether rich or poor, highly paid professional or a garbage collector).
In Malaysia and Singapore, or at least from what I heard, some parents warn their children to study hard least they end up becoming garbage collectors. Undoubtedly, a kind of social stigma exist in the perception of the 'dirtiness' or 'unfit' nature of such jobs [which is not easy to shake off]. But, where we would we be, if it were not for these people who help clear the trash and decomposing waste. Could we imagine having a mountain of rotting rubbish whose stench stink to vomit-inducing proportions near our homes? [some areas in Malaysia suffer from a lack of an efficient waste collection system]. Indeed, garbage collectors are integral to society, and should be accorded the necessary respect they deserve; more so now that we become more conscious of the importance of environmentally safe waste disposal [sadly, Malaysia still doesn't exactly practice it well enough], and the need to recycle some of the endless resources we humans consume [I think, sanitary engineer will become a vital profession in the future ;)]
PS. I won't be able to reply to any comments as fast as I would like to, as I am without a fixed internet access.