COAL & ICE
To the man wearing the leather apron
On the perch of the oak wagon,
a Studebaker-built wagon
Pulled by two tired dray-animals,
The first gasoline-powered truck
Didn’t arrive until 1932.
From his seat on high,
While wagon rolled over cobblestone,
Yelled to the sky—“Ice, who needs ice?”
There was a familiar ring
And echo among the buildings
Down Chauncey Street.
His intonation of the word: Ice
Enticed the wives and widows
To their open-windows.
Wintertime he yelled: “Coal.”
In the intervening months
Depending on weather,
“Coal and ice—who needs
Coal and ice? Co-al and ice!”
In the summer he rarely sold coal.
A pair of ice-tongs
Held over his shoulder with both hands
Two fifty-pound blocks of ice
Up the narrow stairs
Through the hallways and doors
Into the tenement homes.
With coal he drew back the team
And laden wagon in the alleys
To the coal-chutes in the cellars.
Near the boilers, he shoveled
Into the void and darkness
Of an uncovered hole, a measured pile.
For every single transaction
He wrote with a pencil in a receipt book
With pages that curled back.
When the wagon was empty
The horse plodded at a medium gait
To the icehouse on Dover Street,
Or followed a familiar path
Near the quarry outside the city
To the coal yard.
Every night after his bath
Before he ate his supper
He counted the money in his pocket,
Added charges from the receipt book
And subtracted the cost of coal
Stephen Barile, a Fresno, California native, was educated in the public schools, and attended Fresno City College, Fresno Pacific University, and California State University, Fresno. He is the former chairman of the William Saroyan Society, and a long-time member of the Fresno Poet’s Association. Mr. Barile taught writing at Madera Center Community College, lives and writes in Fresno. His poems have been published extensively, including The Heartland Review, Rio Grande Review, The Packinghouse Review, Undercurrents, The Broad River Review, The San Joaquin Review, Haight-Ashbury Literary Journal, Beginnings, Pharos, and Flies, Cockroaches, and Poets.