One From Many - Poem by William Graham
As you slumber in warm sheets on a cold winter morning,
He tosses newspapers from his ten-year-old car.
His skin—tanned from the steamy Mexican sun—
Is assaulted by the whipping cold. Up and down
Slick streets he drives under the glowing orange street lights.
Do you ever see him? Do you ever think of him?
He returns home to a neighborhood where the streets
Have not been plowed and helps his daughter get
Ready for school before he leaves for his second job.
Do you know the pinched foreign woman who takes in
Your weekly dry cleaning? You think she may be from Korea or China, but she is from Vietnam. Her daughter plays the violin better
Than your daughter and receives better grades. But your daughter
Will never meet her daughter. They will never become friends.
One girl will attend Yale, the other a community college while
Working behind the dry cleaning counter as Bach’s notes
Pulse crisply in her head.
Do you see the woman dressed sleekly in black serving
Your pulsating steak and pouring your full-blooded wine?
She could be the sinuous woman who lives next to you in the
Renovated house with the water views. But she is a
Single mother hoping for a big night of tips so that
She can pay for summer camp this year, hoping
That her son won’t get sick because she has no health
Insurance. She wishes she could move to a new
School district that actually provides toilet paper.
Do you know where your son’s second grade teacher lives?
You never run into her at the grocery store or the nail salon.
The woman with whom you dropp off your son each morning
Spent over a thousand dollars of her own salary for school
Supplies last year because you and your husband
Voted “No” for tax increases. Your husband said taxes
Infringe on your basic freedoms. You’re not sure what
He meant but you voted the same way.
Do you know the dairy farmer who went bankrupt while
You complained about the price of milk? It cost him
More to produce a gallon than the price he got for it.
His Wisconsin land was bought by a tech manager from
Chicago. You know him—the man who lives three doors
Down with the wife who jogs past your house in dawn’s early
Light. You start thinking about a second home up north also.
It will be great for the kids to spend some time in the country.
Do you know the family from Appalachia who lives in a
Town with no health clinic? The father and son root for
The same college football team as you. They have never
Been to a game. Your wife donates to a local food depository
Where the family goes weekly to stock up on essentials.
Do you know its location? Do you see them as your neighbor?
Do you know the soldiers dying for you on foreign soil?
Do you know anyone serving in the military as you sip drinks
After a tennis match under the butterscotch sun of summer?
They are the sons and daughters of farmers and the unemployed.
They are the sons and daughters who are protecting your right
To protest against higher taxes to pay for better roads and schools.
Do you know them? Do you think of them in the desert heat
As your children splash in cool azure water?
Do you see the people who help you live each day? They are
You and you are them. The profound prophet that you often invoke
Reminds you of that. Recall their faces the next time you kneel.
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