American Life in Poetry: Column 057


Midwestern poet Richard Newman traces the
imaginary life of coins as a connection
between people. The coins--seemingly of
little value--become a ceremonial and communal


My change: a nickel caked with finger grime;
two nicked quarters not long for this life, worth
more for keeping dead eyes shut than bus fare;
a dime, shining in sunshine like a new dime;
grubby pennies, one stamped the year of my birth,
no brighter than I from 40 years of wear.

What purses, piggy banks, and window sills
have these coins known, their presidential heads
pinched into what beggar's chalky palm--
they circulate like tarnished red blood cells,
all of us exchanging the merest film
of our lives, and the lives of those long dead.

And now my turn in the convenience store,
I hand over my fist of change, still warm,
to the bored, lip-pierced check-out girl, once more
to be spun down cigarette machines, hurled
in fountains, flipped for luck--these dirty charms
chiming in the dark pockets of the world.

Reprinted from "Borrowed Towns," World Press,
2005, by permission of the author. First printed
in "Crab Orchard Review," Volume 10, No. 1, 2005.
Copyright (c) 2005 by Richard Newman. This weekly
column is supported by The Poetry Foundation,
The Library of Congress, and the Department of
English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.