Riddle

A clerk at a butcher shop stands five feet ten inches tall and wears size 13 sneakers.
What does he weigh?

The riddle says
Meat

He weighs meat  

Ha ha
good one

we’re supposed to say and
it’s true as far as it goes but

it doesn’t take into account 
the possibility
that the butcher might also sell
various deli items and the clerk
might weigh out piles of slices
of provolone into
white waxed paper
sealed with brown tape labels
with name and price handwritten
in black grease pencil

or that the clerk might also weigh
heaps of
potato salad
into plastic tubs
from a white enamel case
with huge sliding doors

(the way Michael Morelli did
when I was a kid
on my family’s Saturday morning trips
to his dad’s market in Milford

handing me slices of cheese
over the counter
with a wink
when my mom
and his dad weren’t looking)

It doesn’t take into account
that the same clerk might also
at some point
have to weigh
the decision set before him
about whether to maintain
this family business
or go on and do other things
and sell the building to a barber
upon his father’s death

It skips entirely
the possibility
that the clerk might also
continue to weigh
the consequences of that decision
every time he passes
the now empty and decrepit
storefront that long ago
went from being
a butcher shop
to a barber shop
to an antique shop
to a computer repair shop
to an empty shop
to a broken hole
on a broken block
in a broken downtown

The clerk goes home
Weighs himself and sighs
Stares into his bathroom mirror
Goes and sits in the dark
in his clean modern kitchen
at the butcher block island

Ha ha
Good one
he says

Elsewhere
the riddle is endlessly retold
for new audiences
more and more of whom
have never seen
a butcher shop
white paper
brown tape
grease pencil
have never smelled
the mingling of sawdust and blood
or felt the cold blast of air
from the walk-in
with the full quarters of beef
hanging behind glass
behind the counter

A writer on a couch with a laptop
stands five foot eight (when he’s standing)
and wears a size ten shoe
At 56 he is shocked to realize
he can still remember
the name of the butcher’s assistant
from a market
that’s been gone
for most of his lifetime

Is shocked to realize
how much that still weighs

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About Tony Brown

A poet with a history in slam, lots of publications; my personal poetry and a little bit of daily life and opinions. Read the page called "About..." for the details. View all posts by Tony Brown

2 responses to “Riddle

  • Andrew

    I love this. The way it starts with a joke that isn’t hugely funny, then proceeds into nostalgia (from the Greek, “nostoi” or song of return), then returns to the butcher’s clerk sitting in his kitchen, returned to the present, asking how did we get here?? Elegant, poignant, pointed

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