The Garbageman

Adrift amid a world that’s lost all rhyme,
Where reason reels from first degree assault,
It’s little wonder that from time to time
One’s inner life can lapse into default.
Our former passions have gone absentee
And simple griefs cut closer to the bone.
The more we rattle on about community,
The more the sense we’re really all alone.
And there’s a light of course but precious dim
(At least we must admit so for the nonce);
It simmers in the shadows where it limns
The tenderest of all our human wants.
Yet when it glows the merest gesture saves:
A garbageman who beeps at me and waves…



Jeffrey Essmann is an essayist and poet living in New York. His poetry has appeared in numerous magazines and literary journals, among them Agape Review, America Magazine, Dappled Things, the St. Austin Review, U.S. Catholic, Grand Little Things, Heart of Flesh Literary Journal, and various venues of the Benedictine monastery with which he is an oblate. He is editor of the Catholic Poetry Room page on the Integrated Catholic Life website.

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15 Responses

  1. Tonia Kalouria

    Love this! Yes, as so often is the case, “the little things in life” ARE the big things.

  2. Priscilla King

    Our county garbage collectors used to have a game of counting people whom they knew personally, who waved back at them. Apparently some people wouldn’t wave hello when passing a garbage truck.

  3. Norma Pain

    A lovely sonnet about the difference receiving a smile can make to one’s day. Thank you for this one Jeffrey.

  4. Roy Eugene Peterson

    One little big thing people do in West Texas is wave at others while both are driving on the road. There is a great sense of community values out here, but then we do not have the traffic of other parts of the country. Yes, garbage men are respected out here. Love the thought of this poem!

  5. Cynthia Erlandson

    What a wonderful idea. I love the first two lines especially — great word play.

  6. Paul Freeman

    Two thumbs up (plus a wave) for The Garbageman’.

    Thanks for the read, Jeff.

  7. jd

    This is a lovely poem many can relate to, Jeffrey.
    I had exactly the same experience years ago when
    walking in the street because of snow-obscured sidewalks and a sanitation truck driver noticeably slowed his truck and smiled after many other drivers had almost run me over. I’ve always wanted to write a poem about it but you’ve done it for me.

  8. Joseph S. Salemi

    Nice work, Jeffrey! And yes — a sonnet can be on any subject at all, and still be great.

  9. Leland James

    Modern, without leaving the classical behind, the sonnet about garbagemen. I love it. I have an axiom I live by in poety, a poem works or it doesn’t. This poem works. Nice.

  10. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Jeffrey, I absolutely love this sonnet (great choice of form) for its craft but most of all for its message. The warmth of a kind human gesture in an increasingly lonely, Big-Tech-run prison speaks of all we have lost… beautifully. Garbage men are rare gems these days. Our wonderful Monday and Thursday truckload of them has been reduced to a single driver and a robotic, trash-can-emptying arm… no whistling, no laughter, no camaraderie, no fun! Dustmen matter!

  11. Jeffrey Essmann

    Thank you, everybody, for your very kind appreciation of my work. I’m so glad you liked it, and it was wonderful to hear other people’s stories of random acts of kindness. God bless us all.

  12. Monika Cooper

    This sonnet reminds me of your “Pink” poem in that it’s image-less and sceneless almost all the way through. Only at the end, in this case the very last line, do you introduce the concrete, outside world: human and warm. Beautiful. Maybe nothing in this life can cure fundamental human loneliness but, yes, the smallest friendly gesture can console it unspeakably.

  13. Frank J De Canio

    Really great stuff, Jeffrey. Shakespeare writes something about a kind deed glowing like a candle. “How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.”
    In the great movie Nazarin by the Spanish film director Luis Bunuel, a Jesus-like character seemingly emotionally adrift amid the mockers of his life suddenly gets a fruit handed to him by a concerned woman and it seems to light up his life. How often does a kind deed in this miserable world count for so much.
    And in form and content your poem is perfect!

  14. David Whippman

    Clever poem with a punchy and uplifting final couplet.

  15. Joshua C. Frank

    Jeffrey, this one is good! I like how you show how a simple gesture of human connection in our increasingly artificial world makes such a big difference. Would that we had more interactions like that!


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