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Empty your pockets

Empty your pockets

Dominic Sanfilippo ’16 August 18, 2020

A poem inspired by the words and life of Erma Fiste Bombeck ’49

It was quiet, she thought—
the woman walking through
the hilly cemetery at dusk—
a quiet that announced itself,
mixing in the light streams reflecting
and yawning off Miami Valley Hospital’s
windows; magenta and canary—
cerulean, too—
all spilling through the dust
and shadows and branches above
the tombs, tracing an airy
backdrop on which a yellow warbler
was flitting, making its own sort of
announcement, stamping
seasonal presence early—
in the first inning, even,
the little daredevil.

Quiet, and quiet, and more quiet—
except for the warbler, of course,
and a cargo plane making a lazy sweep
over from Wright-Patt,
and a few engine drawls on Brown Street—

(less than usual, though, as most students
had already shuffled back to their starting points;
the baristas and teachers and data analysts
and stylists and artists all homebound, too,
pacing and tracing and making do—
the vehicles were mostly full of grocers
and nurses and responders and
nervous parents, some driving toward those same hospital windows
on which the magenta and canary and
cerulean spilled).

She leaned against a tree,
closed her eyes—
then looked over her shoulder
at a boulder.

Yes, a boulder.

Boulder at Woodland Cemetary








It seemed to her that the
boulder announced itself,
too, even more than
the quiet and the warbler—

carved, faded
from the Arizona sun,
and almost thirty-thousand pounds,
they say.

She considered the boulder—
all who’d passed it,
all who’d paused before it,
all the laughter and sighs
and tensions and tears
that had spilled out before it,
both in desert sunlight
and Ohio fog.

She considered, too,
the woman from Centerville, that
hurricane of a writer,
that anchor of a friend,
that force of nature whose spark had
given the boulder reason to make
its own pilgrimage all the way to
these cemetery grounds,
this quiet oasis.

What would that laughter,
that keen watcher from the past
say to the present,
to the warbler and the wind,
to the grocers and cops
and parents and sons
and daughters navigating this
new normal, this screaming quiet
marked by weary glances
and stock market zigzags
and solemn pressers
at the top of the hour?

and then less quiet,
as the woman in the present
announced to
the cemetery,
to the warbler and the trees,
to her quiet city and still campus,
to her restless country and scattered world—

Empty your pockets.

She sprung from the tree,
a small smile emerging;
shook out her shoulders,
gave a nod to the boulder
and a wink to the warbler,
and strolled toward the gates—

that’s what she’d say, yes!—

Empty your pockets and stride,

stride toward laughter in the living room
and held hands by the fire
and emails with old friends,
toward yelps over the lost remote
and backyard concerts
and balcony concertos
soaring over signals
and ocean winds,

toward the responders and the deciders
and the stockers and the grocers,

toward hard conversations
and interrupted grief
and mustered courage,

toward all those human souls,
those sparks of light
living the Centerville writer’s words
in the shaky present
whether they knew it or not,
tying themselves
to the infinite,

emptying their pockets
with nothing to return,
using everything given,
reckoning with
everything thrown their way.

She reached the gates—
her small smile an announcement,
a declaration—

and walked off into the dusk.

(Inspired by the words and life
of Erma Fiste Bombeck ’49.)


Dominic Sanfilippo ’16, a philosophy and human rights studies grad as well as a self-proclaimed mediocre ping-pong player, teaches courses on philosophy, religious dialogue and sacramental imagination at Regina Dominican High School in Wilmette, Illinois.

Roger Brown, Dayton Flyer