The Man Next Door According to His Pockets

by Adam Elgar
The Writer's Block
Second Place, July 2007
Judged by Maurya Simon

He’s losing faith in us.
We feel him check and re-
check that we have his keys
and wallet, and the talismanic
letter from his daughter,
wherever she may be.

He slouches down the same
streets to the same work,
mistrust a whisper that aspires
to clamour. Which of us
is guilty of the hole
that everything slips through?

Some conjuror has swapped
his life for one where wives’
eyes redden and accuse,
obsessed sons slur and darken,
daughters abandon him
for intolerable lovers.

Our forebears knew his children
when they were little more
than half our height, those soft
fists reaching up to tug out treasures,
his reward to let his pockets
haemorrhage for those he loved.

What a delightful and unlikely dramatic persona this poem creates: its speaker is a man's trouser's pockets, and they are steady witnesses to the familial and personal trials of the "man next door" (an Everyman). The poem's first line--"He's losing faith in us"-- provides its dominant theme of loss, which the poet skillfully develops and enlarges as the poem proceeds. The man has alienated his wives, and lost his "daughters [who] abandon him/ for intolerable lovers," while his sons "slur and darken," suggesting an emotional distancing between them, as well. The poem's ending poignantly evokes an earlier time when the man's children reached up with "soft tug out treasures" from his pockets--and its final lines ("his reward to let his pockets/ haemorrhage for those he loved") suggest his former pleasure in freely giving his love to them, even as these lines hint back to and underscore his present desolation. --Maurya Simon