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September 6, 2011



I knew this would be a tough morning for him
just having lost his job at age 52

his wife, three young children,
a mortgage like an albatross around their necks,
a car loan, ballet lessons, soccer camp,
and the looming $100,000 bill for college.

Who could take this all?

I knocked on his door around 10 AM,
a time he would not usually be at home.
I actually rang the doorbell.
I had a box of those round doughnut holes
and a little carrier of Morning Joe.
He had on a bathrobe, partially opened
that looked like it hadn’t been worn since he was in college
a one day old scraggly beard.
If he were Marlon Brando or Broderick Crawford
I’d expect him to have a cigarette dangling from his lips.

The house was immaculate, his wife kept it that way
got the kids off to school, and then left each morning
for her job at the County library in the research department
answering lately e-mails from people
who wanted to know
the latest economic and employment forecasts
but most of whom asked whether there was an on-line source
they hadn’t already checked to find a job.

What could you say
to this once proud man -
not a man of extraordinary ego
just a man who worked hard to make a living
loved his family, took only a little piece of the American dream,
the one that hard work bought.

To be without a job
ready, willing and able to contribute
to receive that severance notice
is like a pin prick to an inflated helium balloon
the air exhausts quickly
the balloon shrivels to a small crumpled remnant of its former self,
falls to the earth.
You can’t put the air back into something
that is not whole any longer.

Gradually I eased him into talking.

At first it didn’t work
but within a half an hour
he was dropping those little doughnut holes
into his coffee mug and jamming them with a spoon
breaking them apart, gobbling the mess between words.

I eased out of him his severance package of a couple of months
how for at least that time his financial life could be the same.
I asked him if his wife had changed in but these 24 hours.
Or if his children had even noticed -
I suggested he not give them something to notice.

I told him about the unemployment office,

where it was located and how not to let disgrace
be his companion when he walked there,

about the group of us who now had a table
in the local library where we checked the Internet
swapped stories about job visits
read each other’s resumes.
At about 10 AM we’d visit the local Dunkin’ Donuts
a cup of coffee still in our respective budgets.
I’d left them there this morning to visit this friend
whom I now invited to become a part
of our newly established fraternity.

It had been four months. I was finally off of Zoloft.
Only took Lunesta on rare occasion.
He recognized me now, no longer a vacant stare.
Remembered his visit to me six months earlier.
Then he came at 7:30 AM — he had a job.

I appreciated the visit

but he never quite understood,
hadn’t discovered yet, how much it takes out of you
leaves you vacant,
feeling worthless in a world that measures
value by dollars and cents.

I know not what the future brings
but know there is a future
will walk this path because I see it well-worn by others.
We will make it, we will all make it.
And then I am not sure what Dunkin’ Donuts will do.
When we had jobs, we used to visit Starbucks.

Ray Brown


6 Comments leave one →
  1. June 8, 2009 9:19 pm

    Enjoyed your poem :)

  2. Ray Brown permalink*
    June 8, 2009 9:26 pm

    Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment.

  3. Elijah permalink
    September 10, 2009 2:17 am

    Man words fail me!!! You really put this across, I’m humbled … damn you’re GOOD! In a hundred years people will read this and be able to relive this experience. You are writing heart and history!

  4. September 6, 2011 11:36 am

    You poem captures a situation many now days find themselves in…loved your perspective.

  5. Ray Brown permalink*
    September 6, 2011 1:09 pm

    Thank you. The plight of so many Americans and the emotion toll it has taken has bothered me for the last few years.


  1. Birds on Furlough « Poetry by Ray Brown

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