Every night a woman, at least as old
as my mother, with a walk labored like
my grandmother’s last steps;
enters my office to clean.

Tonight is our last night in the building.
She and I talk like old friends parting ways
for the last time or new friends leaving
each other for the first.

She utters a few words to me in her
smiling Spanish & English. My tongue searches
for the right response in my troubled Spanish.

We both laugh sifting
through the things our employer
has instructed me to discard.

We both laugh knowing

She finds a small black pouch
big enough to hold a month’s pay
in her bosom. She shows me the pouch;
mimes how she will hide it
from the night’s hungry hands.

She put her hand on her chest
says “El Salvador”, I tell her I am
from DC, “Anacostia” I say.
she nods. she knows;
we both have learned to live

well off what others abandon.

From Blood/Sound (Central Square Press, 2019). Copyright © 2019 by Fred L. Joiner. Used with the permission of the author.