A Man with Boxes



In an old box a man is writing your name
        with a crayon
He will put his old shoes in the box
        and close the lid

At supper your food will taste of sweat
        and leather
At night you will be afraid of the dark
and by day you will gasp for air

You will walk in your sleep
and wake to find yourself in a strange city
You will remember things someone else forgot
and your thoughts will come like postcards
        in an unknown tongue

One hot day a man with a box will stop you
His smell will be warm and close
You will melt like a crayon into his box

Somewhere outside the man is cashing checks
        in your name
He wears new shoes
Under his arms        old boxes


First published in West Branch.



This poem is written in the second person. I don’t use second person much because some people find it presumptuous. But I believe it works in cautionary poems like this one, and the wonderful poem “Oh No” by Robert Creeley, which begins:

If you wander far enough
you will come to it
and when you get there
they will give you a place to sit

for yourself only, in a nice chair

“A Man with Boxes” also employs magic as a vehicle for its development. But it isn’t about magic. I think the poem is about identity and freedom, and about the potential for losing both. It is also about people who take prisoners.


"Old Shoes 1" - photo by Mike Smetzer

“Old Shoes 1” – photo by Mike Smetzer


"Old Shoes 2" - photo by Mike Smetzer

“Old Shoes 2” – photo by Mike Smetzer

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