Spring/Summer 2001

QW #52

Gary Soto



I bet my wad on rubber bands
And every stock went up but mine.
Immediately I was pushing a shopping cart.
The glorious west was done for me. My neighbor’s dog, Fluffy,
Was at my side. Twin failures, we followed the dark
Wind of an industrial alley and stopped to iron out a pothole
With my shoe. Fluffy used the pads
Of her soft paws. For good measure,
I jumped three times on my handiwork–
My contribution to society. I then gave my attention
To a pigeon pumping its claws up and down,
Feathered-friend with chewing gum gluing him in place.
I picked up that poor creature, its beak stringy with gum,
And whispered where I thought his ear might be, Everyone bought gold but me.
Fluffy barked. She knew this was true.
I thrust my hands into my cart and brought up handfuls of rubber bands.
I was rich with ignorance. I worked forty-seven rubber bands
Around my wrist and said to the bird, The blood flow is cut off,
And I can’t draw no more. Or write. Or work
My bow over the strings of a warped violin.
I saw myself in the shiny territory of the pigeon’s eyes,
My nose mountainous, my nostril hairs a frightening forest.

The sun bled behind a cloud. The telephone wires swung in the wind,
The once high-and-mighty kites charred to sticks.
I hugged the derelict pigeon,
Then cleaned his face and claws,
Yet another contribution to society.
The pigeon fluttered skyward
But not far. Instead, he preferred to walk,
With me a proper distance behind his crutch-like steps,
With me shooting his tail with my arsenal of rubber bands.
I picked up chewing gum on the bottoms of my shoes,
A workout because I had to raise my steps high
To get anywhere. I had tried the stock market
And lost. And where my gummed-up friend, Fluffy, and I were going,
Neither feathers nor fur nor skin mattered much.
We had used up our luck. Anemic from blood loss,
We kicked and clawed at the hungry earth,
Potholes opening for one more feeding.


The pigeon was a Buddha, one foot in the rivulet
And the other on a rock. I said to Fluffy, The bird knows more than us.
At this the Buddha bird warbled. Was this my sermon on the mount?
This god of the street thrust his beak under his wing
And brought out a flea. With that,
I hurried away without my shopping cart,
Undoing the rubber bands from my wrist. My hand was white
From that pressure, and the carpal gates opened again,
Blood bathing the cells that throbbed for more drink.
I raised my hand skyward
And then let swing it at my side.
I had enough of the alley. The sun
Was no more than an ember at the alley’s end.
When a dog barked, and Fluffy sniffed the air.
A lathe in one of the warehouses started
And stopped. I counted up my losses–money
And love, foothill property where ducks clacked their bills
For the pleasure of pulling grass from a murky pond.
A second dog barked. Fluffy ignored her natural call.
I had departed with a shopping cart
Of rubber bands, my heist from the stock market,
And now I was watching my breath,
A pastime when you have nothing.
I was rubbing my once dead hand and pulling on each finger
When a warehouse slammed shut, startling me.
Something was over, done with, the day shift
Walking away with oiled faces. On a fence,
A cat was carrying a pigeon in its mouth.
The pigeon struggled, its claws spread like roots.
My breath broke apart. My fists opened and closed.
I was the shiny territory in the eye of a thing that was dying.

You can read Gary Soto's poetry, "Stock Market" in its entirety in Quarterly West issue #52.