How Things Work
Today it’s going to cost us twenty dollars
To live. Five for a softball. Four for a book,
A handful of ones for coffee and two sweet rolls,
Bus fare, rosin for your mother’s violin.
We’re completing our task. The tip I left
For the waitress filters down
Like rain, wetting the new roots of a child
Perhaps, a belligerent cat that won’t let go
Of a balled sock until there’s chicken to eat.
As far as I can tell, daughter, it works like this:
You buy bread from a grocery, a bag of apples
From a fruit stand, and what coins
Are passed on helps others buy pencils, glue,
Tickets to a movie in which laughter
Is thrown into their faces.
If we buy a goldfish, someone tries on a hat.
If we buy crayons, someone walks home with a broom.
A tip, a small purchase here and there,
And things just keep going. I guess.
~ Gary Soto
I read this poem for class last Friday, and fell in love with it immediately. Something about the ending line, the idea of making a living to live life, really stuck with me. Little life moments are currency in themselves, and there are things that money simply cannot buy. Perhaps it is because I am at that time of life right now when I have to consider the balance between making a living and living life that is the reason this poem resonated so strongly with me. The idea of life currency as valuable, priceless moments traded for true currency was so special, and I thought about the costs that life demands and the impossibility of associating monetary value with the items that money can be – paradoxical as that seems.
Small acts of kindness, a currency in themselves, “filters down / Like rain,” and I think that this is true. Maybe it is the romantic in me that is hopeful, but after giving a chocolate bar to a cashier that was having a bad day like me, and then just a few days ago, receiving a gift of free eggs from the market from a dear older man who told me to “have a good day, precious!” – I let myself be wishful for the moment. “A tip, a small purchase here and there, /And things just keep going I guess.”
I hope you have a good week, filled with “rain” in the best sense, in the poem’s context – a giving and receiving of kindness and moments that make you appreciate living life.