Clutching

Jacob Daniels

Their hands were trembling as they always
do when we are counting money.
—Federico Garcia Lorca

When Burt paid me, he licked the brown envelope
like a sad dog lapping at a stranger’s cheek.

Always cash. He cooked those books
with his father’s recipe. He used to drop change

on the floor before I swept. If I pocketed it,
I’d be fired like Tony was.

He died clutching his chest while giving his son
a driving lesson. I stood in the somber chain

of mourners, fingering my pocket change.
A quarter, two dimes, pennies.

He loved money. Money loved him back.
He owned four stores when he died,

four stores for his family to fight over.
It was my first job, and I was a loyal dog

panting for approval. After a good day,
before we headed home exhausted, he’d clap

a beefy hand on my shoulder as if
we were partners. He didn’t pay me enough

to mop his sticky floors and empty
his rotten garbage. After we were robbed,
after our faces were unceremoniously shoved
 
into that dirty tile floor, he got a gun.

I didn’t want to die lying next to him,
the cash register baring its empty cavities,

and even our shameful pockets
pulled inside out, my snotty handkerchief

exposed on the floor. His eyes were plugged in
to a rage that scorched his path for months

as he spun the cylinder on his gun, imagining
heroic scenarios. I hadn’t shown the impatient thief

our secret hiding place. I saved those brown envelopes,
saved them empty on a shelf above my bed.

Burt looked me level as we drove
the next day to examine mug shots:

You’re like me, he said. I count money in my head
like sheep some nights, though I know

I shouldn’t. He gave me fifty dollars:
Combat pay. I quit the next day.

No one’s paid me in cash in twenty years.
I’ve got direct deposit. How much cash

would it take to tremble? My children wave
their birthday money like tiny flags, or passports.

Who will teach them to drive? What else can
make us tremble? Today, I forgive his tight fist

opened by death into a false caress.
Somebody should stuff a wad

of bills in there.
Into the still hand.
© 2007 University of North Carolina Greensboro
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JACOB DANIELS is the author of the collections Show and Tell: New and Selected Poems (University of Wisconsin Press) and Detroit Tales (Michigan State University Press), short stories, both published in 2003.