Tuesday Poem: Parking Meter

Illustration by despardes.com

If a slot machine is a one-armed bandit,
what does that make you? A cyclopean
troll? I don’t think it will catch on.
Maybe there’s nothing poetic about you.
A friend’s mother died the other day,
and it occurred to me at the service—
I’m embarrassed to admit so late into my forties—
that time is the greatest commodity, maybe
the only one that matters. Time is money,
people say, but is the inverse true?
I started thinking about the ways
we buy time on this earth, and you
were the first one I thought of.

But there are other ways: jukeboxes, payphones—
coins for time with voices. Concerts, movies,
theme park tickets, hotel stays, prostitutes—
dollars for time in places we’d rather be, 
with people we’d rather see. Rent money,
the light bill—an exchange for a makeshift home
and delayed darkness. Is food fundamentally
just a purchase of more time in our own bodies? 

After the funeral, I stopped downtown. 
I found you still with a little time left, 
someone’s wasted minutes. I fed coin after coin 
into the slot, watching the countdown increase, 
buying more time, each quarter, less a guarantee 
against a ticket or tow, but rather, a promise 
to my car: “There’s no way I’m going to die 
before I come back for you.” I dropped another
quarter and relaxed, assured I would return
in fewer than 53 minutes, and soon enough,
head across town, maybe for a sandwich,
leaving you standing there with the rows
of your brothers, each one with their steady
internal ticking, little defused time bombs
that never explode, silently counting down
whatever’s left.

–by Dean Marshall Tuck
from Rattle #83, Spring 2024

Dean Marshall Tuck: “Don’t you sort of miss dropping coins into payphones and parking meters and jukeboxes? I was thinking about this, and the sounds the coins made falling down their slots, and I suppose that’s what began my poem. Then things took a turn. It’s hard not to see mortality in everything. I did not expect to get there while contemplating the parking meter, but here we are.”

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