My Brother’s Paper Route

Now that the route was mine,
I could buy a new bike like his,
I thought, and imagined how I looked
as I climbed uphill wearing the bag

a kind of uniform, with its broad
orange band crossing my chest.
Nobody watched from the windows
except the old woman in a bathrobe

who called me into her dim room
to sit with her while she spread
her newspaper out on the table,
pulling the small letters under

the pool of her magnifying glass.
When she let me out at last
in the twilight, the houses were gone
to shadow. Was this the apartment

my brother had shown me in the peeling
triple-decker? Was this the right
triple-decker? The man inside
who shouted at his wife wouldn’t

come to the door. And what was I to do
under the streetlamp about the three
leftover newspapers in my bag
and the ache in my shoulder

from carrying it, too young to understand
the poverty and loneliness on that hill
of streets, or how what you thought
you owned could own you.

Explore an earlier version of this poem through two questions about craft.