In the old days they smoosh your credit card
with a slider and you sign a receipt with an actual pen.
They rip out carbons and flimsy slips,
one for you, one for them, one which goes
to a factory in San Francisco where in 1970
a hippie can work night shift.
We whoosh stacks of tissue-thin papers
through machines that mostly do not mangle them
so upstairs the bank can send you a bill
that mostly is correct.
One dawn as I leave work,
as my long sunrising shadow walks
to my old VW beetle,
a credit slip blows across the lot,
slaps against my shoe—
so I bend and pick it up.
Sixteen cans of cat food, eight dollars and change.
My moral choice to either go straight home and
let some lucky woman get free kitty food
or return the slip and let the merchant be paid.
To my surprise I choose to return.
Feeling the fool I hand in the slip expecting no reward
from the implacable gods of capitalism,
hand it to the machinery amid the smell
of paper dust and carbon inks
which are actually made of soot and wax—
did you know?—a minute’s delay in my departure
so on the way home the Porsche
that loses control on 101 and plows
head-on into two oncoming cars
killing six people happens a minute
before I drive up in my beetle.
Joe Cottonwood has repaired hundreds of houses to support his writing habit in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. His latest book of poetry is Random Saints.
© 2021, Joe Cottonwood