With Maine Poet Laureate Stuart Kestenbaum
Today’s poem is “Leonard” by Deborah Cummins. Deborah is the author of an essay collection, “Here and Away: Discovering Home on an Island in Maine,” and two collections of poetry, “Counting the Waves” and “Beyond the Reach.” She lives in Deer Isle and Portland.
She writes “‘Leonard’ is a blend of my imagination and actual incidents that inspired it. Many years ago, before moving to Maine full-time, my husband and I spent a large part of our summers here.
“Early on, as I drove the main two roads of the island where we had our home, I would encounter a young-ish man walking along the side of the road with a sack slung over his back. I never lived in a state where you could get money back for your bottles and cans, and so at first, I thought that as a conscientious citizen he was picking up litter. But it became apparent what he was doing, and doing it with such purposefulness and diligence, it was as if it was his daily job.
Without my recognizing it, and though I did not know him, I began to look forward to seeing him along the road. And then one summer, he wasn’t there. It was only then that I began to write this poem…”
By Deborah Cummins
As punctual as the tides, he’s on the road
at first light, empty grain sack hoisted
over his good shoulder. He makes
his slow, steady way from one end
of the island to the other, in all weather,
picking up cans from the roadside
in a state that pays for the empties.
No one sets him to it. A job nevertheless.
Good days, he fills a sack, hides it
in the woods — he’s got his places — retrieves it on the return trip up-island.
In August, he’s offered a cold soda
from the machines at Ron’s Mobil.
Any kind does him fine. No need to ask
what happens to the can after.
Soon enough, he’s off, head down
as always. He never sees me wave
driving past, nor the way
his curved spine and crooked foot tug at my heart. And that time I drove ahead,
dumped my bagged cans by the ditch?
Maybe I, too, was in need
of a little redemption.
Poem copyright © Deborah Cummins. Reprinted by permission of Deborah Cummins.
“Poems from Here” is presented in collaboration with the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance, the Maine Arts Commission and the Maine Community Foundation’s Expansion Arts Fund. Special thanks to Robert M. Chute and family along with Phil Steele and Francesca Galluccio-Steele for making “Poems from Here” possible. Additional support is provided by The New Writing Series at the University of Maine. The radio version appears weekly on Maine Public Radio at 1:55 p.m. and 7:55 p.m. and on Maine Public Classical at 11:55 a.m. and 4:55 p.m.