How to Do

By Cornelius Eady

It embarrasses my niece to think of her mother 
Walking the streets with a cart,
Picking up empties
For their deposits,

But my sister knows how to do,
Which was all our mother asked of us.
She’s learned how to do,
Which is both a solution and a test,

So I stand in line with my sister 
At the supermarket.
Today’s the best day of the week 
To bring the bottles in.

It is a poor people’s science, 
A concept that works until 
Someone with power 
Notices it works,

And then, it doesn’t. 
There’s at least 15 carts, 
At least 10 people in line,

But only one guy 
Behind the counter: 
Not what’s supposed 
To happen.

The manager shrugs
His shoulders when asked. 
No rules here,

Points to a sign taped 
Above our heads 
Which, boiled down,
Says wait, behave.

No rules, except for 
What’s always been: 
Do what you gotta do.

And the poor stiff

Whose job it is to sort the clears 
From the greens, the plastics 
From the cans, who is short 
One or two people this shift,

Who flings my sister’s 
Stumpy treasure
Into the hamper’s
Great, indifferent mouth,

Temporary chief of staff 
Of Lotto,

Who’s been instructed to keep 
The refunds down to
Twelve dollars’ worth of
Store credit, no matter
How many empties 
Come in,

Maybe he has a favorite song.
Maybe he’s a good guy
To have in a pinch.
He’s not paid enough to reveal that here.

This, as my mother would say, 
Is the way we have to do:
Tired as convicts, we inch along, 
Shift our weight
On the black, 
Sticky carpet,

Beholden to nobody’s luck 
But our own.