There are poems to be had on a letter carrier’s route. I have seen them and they are real, just ready to be plucked out of the air.
My problem is that being a postman is incredibly difficult, physically and mentally. I have never had a job that forced me to stay in the moment. When I was an ironworker, the repetitive work allowed the mind all kinds of places to wander. The heavy labor satisfied the body and invigorated my thoughts with lots of fresh air. I could look back after a day’s labor and say to myself, hey, I did that.
The thing about carrying the mail, it doesn’t matter how well you do it, there’s always more. The mail never sleeps.
The work of the letter carrier is busy every minute. It allows no daydreaming or wandering thoughts. Those just wind up in parcels forgotten in the satchel, mail missed, addresses ignored, and extra work retracing steps. And there’s nothing more discouraging than looking back five or six houses where I was supposed to deliver the package I rediscovered in my bag.
Now, one would think covering the distance of one or two or five houses on foot wouldn’t be that big of a deal. But everything about a letter carrier’s job revolves around time. On the route I had yesterday, I had something close to 500 addresses. Five here and five minutes there adds up to hours by the end of the day. I spent about seven or seven and a half hours on that route. Who knows how much time I wasted on porches fishing the shoppers out of my bag. Five or ten seconds on each porch adds up to something like an hour and a half at the end of the day.
I feel the pressure to produce from the time I get my trays of mail in the morning. Looking down the length of four or five of those trays leads me to think, right away, how am I going to deliver all this mail. Then there are all the oversized envelopes, magazines, and catalogues I have to carry on my left arm. That’s the way it goes. Mail in my left hand, flats and magazines on my left forearm, and my right hand free to sort and deliver all that’s addressed to a house or business.
It’s a tough job for a guy like me, whose mind is in a constant state of activity. Paring all that attention deficit down to the mail is a feat of incredible discipline for me. After all, there’s nothing I want to do more than to follow the flight of a junco or cardinal. A little girl’s shoe lies in the snow next to a driveway. A loaf of bread hardens in the grass in front of a seemingly lifeless suburban house. How did those things get there? Answering that question is the work of poems.
I have found little time to write with my new endeavor. At first, I was getting my ass handed to me every day. It took time for my body to catch up to the physical demands of the job. The demands of the job amplified the aches and pains typical to a man of my age. I came home every night to a couple hours of television and an early bedtime.
Fortunately, I recover quickly and after eight or nine hours, I was ready for another ass-kicking. Over the course of the last seven or eight weeks, my body has risen to the cause. I don’t feel all finished when I arrive home, though I’m still profoundly tired. I’m sure that by this time, my heart is in better shape and the therapy for emphysema has done my damaged lungs good. I’ve lost over 35 pounds and I’m sure my knees and ankles appreciate not having to push all that extra weight around.
And I have gotten some new ideas for stories and poems. I just have to find the time and energy to put them on paper. I’m contemplating a novel, something of a roman a clef that revolves around an aging American male, his difficulty finding a job, and his foray into yet another venture that isn’t age appropriate or easy—something of a theme in my life.
I keep thinking I’ll get to it when I’m in fighting shape and have the energy to write at the end of the day. But I know that can be an excuse, as well. One of the things I’m good at is forming a writing discipline. Maybe next week or the week after. While I’m not the biggest Charles Bukowski fan, I see how he wrote stories and poems after carrying the mail all day in superheated Los Angeles summers. Later, he sorted the mail, no mean feat in the age before the automated postal plant. He persevered and wrote, which is an inspiration to me.
If Bukowski could do it, I can too. While I can’t do much thinking when carrying the mail, the job is ripe with all sorts of things to write about, from the personalities involved at the postal station to delivering in driving rain.
The silence and peace of heavy snow.
The joys of being out on a cloudy day in a suburb with no signs of life.
The way people are almost always happy to see the letter carrier.
The way nature thrives despite out best efforts to snuff it out.
The dogs yanking the mail out of my hands when I stick it in the mail slot.
Speaking of that, I don’t have a dog story yet and don’t want one. Ever.