Because one time a gun
was pointed at his chest
when the man with shaking hands
dropped it and it went off,
making a hole through the wood shelves.
Because the next time
he didn't see anything,
but when he'd opened the register
felt something shoved
into his back and heard,
"All the fucking money
in the bag ... now motherfucker ...
or I'll fucking kill you."
I was just starting high school
when he started wearing the vest.
I'd help my father strap it on
over his tee shirt, and under
one of his flannel shirts
that he would slowly button up
before heading off to work
which wasn't any kind of job
worth losing your life for-a
bar in a bad neighborhood
where whiskey and beer
were the only drinks,
where cashing paychecks
was how most of the money was made.
But it was the job he did year
after year, and it paid for the roof
that covered me, the sandwich
in the sack that I carried to school,
and the clothes that I wore:
the tee shirt underneath,
and the shirt that buttoned all the way up
from my smooth belly, to my skinny neck.
Matthew Murrey has published widely in journals and has work
forthcoming in Rhino and Poetry East. He received an NEA Fellowship in
Poetry in 1995. "Shoot the Sky, " his first book-length
manuscript, is seeking a publisher. Lately he's been taking on NPR News in his blog, "NPR Check. " He lives in Urbana, Illinois,
with his partner and their tWO sons.