Mr. Melvin Pickens Has Died
The Arkansas Times reports that Melvin Pickens, known around Little Rock as "The Broom Man," has died. Here, in honor of Mr. Pickens's memory, I post a poem about him from my collection The Wheel of Light.
The Broom Man
Sleepless, fretting and thrashing in my bed,
inwardly counting accounts and balances due,
I got up at daybreak one morning and went for a drive.
Idling near the donut shop on the corner
I happened to notice the broom man. How long had it been
since I’d seen him? There, in his jeans and thick glasses
and half-zipped jacket, propped with a bouquet of brooms
beside the glass door that opened and closed, opened and closed
for the father in shorts with a pajamaed girl clinging tight,
the nurse, hurried and fresh in her floral scrubs,
and the brunette in exercise leggings, holding her wallet:
each coming out with a box of frosted and filled
past the broom man speaking his refrain—
I am one of the partially blind.
These brooms are well made and will last a long time—
as the door breathed its gusts of warm, sugar-glazed air,
and cars in a row backed out, their lock buttons thumping.
It had been so long since he’d crossed my mind.
All those days I’d zoomed through purchases and plans,
he must have been making his rounds, from the smokehouse café
across the bank parking lot to the plate-lunch place
and back to the donut shop, lifting his big slow feet to the curb,
his bundled wares on his shoulder. He’d lost weight, he looked frailer, gray.
Now when my head refuses the cradle of its pillow,
and my body, curled for sleep, starts clutching at cobwebs and dust,
I take this thought by its sturdy handle, seize the sweet straws
bunched and bound in the shadowy shop of my mind,
and say to myself, Sweep, sweep. For I am one of the partially blind.