Louise Kertesz

Stock Report, 1940s, Ludlow, Massachusetts

Saturdays, smelling of jute and sweat,
he’d drop his pay envelope
on the shelf above the stove.
First she’d shake some coins out
for the collection basket.

The rest went for our food,
except for what they grew and canned,
for winegrapes, chickenfeed,
and coal, and later, oil,
the paperboy once a week, and
Life magazine, which they swapped
for Look with the upstairs neighbor.

Her dresses came from the catalogue
I used to make paper dolls.
His suit was the length of my childhood.
Hangers clanked in the armoire
that stood sentry in their bedroom.

She’d take me on the city bus
once in fall and once in spring
to buy the coat and hat and shoes
she dressed me in for church
whatever the weather
at Christmas and Easter.

He’d walk home from the mill
at noon. We’d eat in silence
listening to the news. I see him now
intent on his steaming plate

as I sat wondering
why the man on the radio
counted the chairs
day after day
in an enormous, sloping room.

“Millions of chairs were traded,”
he said. “Millions of chairs rose,
and millions of chairs declined,
and millions of chairs remained unchanged.”

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