Mr. Moore, who drank; his oldest son paid the bill without looking at me.
The apartment with the dog who ate two paperboys, leaving only their shoes.
The Morrows who once paid me with a hundred-dollar bill, keep the change.
The Sunderlands, who wanted the paper unfolded and laid flat under a stone,
Which I did because Mrs. S. left candy bars for me in the aluminum milk-box.
The house that left me cash in envelopes nicked from all manner of churches.
The Clearys with the dog who waited for me all afternoon with rising hunger.
Mrs. Muller, whose lawn had not been cut for fifty years and had huge snakes.
Mr. Harris, the basketball coach, whose son’s low rim we tore down, dunking,
And never had the guts to admit it, although he knew, and never again tipped.
The Carrolls, who had a different excuse every week for never paying the bill,
Which when you think about it, is a subtle creative achievement, isn’t that so?
The houses where no one was ever home night or day. The house where I saw
A child tied to the doghouse with a plastic clothesline. The houses where men
Shouted at women and children and dogs. The houses where there was a slight
Chance you might see the teenage daughter and her friends sunbathing in back.
The houses with parts of cars and refrigerators and dryers scattered in the yard.
The house where the man always invited you in for a soda but you never went.
The house where the old lady didn’t pick up her papers for five days and a cop
Investigated and found her deceased out back by a statue of the Blessed Virgin.
The house where the old lady left me a plate of cookies every blessed Tuesday.
All those newspapers and families and shards of families. For the longest time,
The tale in my family was comical: Remember when Brian had the paper route
And never had the drive to collect more money due than would buy candy bars
But the brother who took over the route from me deftly and smoothly collected
Enough money for a year in college? And I would laugh, too, because all it was
Then was a way to get pin money. But now I wonder if I collected more stories
Along those streets than I ever realized, because here I am, all these years later,
Seeing that kid tied to the doghouse as clear as day, his moon face, the brilliant
Rope, the dense knot in which it was tied, a knot no child could ever unravel.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.