A rewrite of yesterday’s monstrosity

Pop bottles, soda bottles, soft-drink bottles—
we just called ‘em empties.
At the White House Food Shop,  
our family deli where Dad sold a little bit  
of everything but mostly beer, wine and soft drinks,
empties arrived like lemmings
swimming in from neighborhood streams.  

We’d marshal them from bags, boxes, cartons,  
or in singles or pairs by kid-scavengers, 
lug the castaways to the back room,  
a vast space rivaling Xanadu’s storerooms,  
where battalions of bottles–
Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Seven-Up, Barq’s,
Wiedemann, Burger,  Hudepohl, Stroh’s,
and more stretched into infinity.   

Ah—the mud-caked bottles,  
pilfered from a shed in back of someone’s memory—
we hated these, had to wash them out,
chasing the bugs, roaches mostly,  
lurking among cardboard beer cartons.  

Kids cashed bottles for candy,  
baseball cards, a small Coke.
Adults with cargo holds of empties
unloaded them from container ships moored out front
to refill  their Sunday stash of beer.  

The cycle repeated
as the “soft-drink guys,”
the “beer guys”
all came on Monday,
to let us tally their take,
then dollied in the week’s supply,
We watched as they took a sandwich from Dad,
and snuck him a cold quart of Hudy in thanks.

And the woman down the street  
would summon us to redeem
shopping bags full of quart beer bottles,  
to maintain her habit.  
(We never questioned enabling her addiction.)   

Thus our summers, falls, springs and winters.  
Even on that dark Saturday, November 12, 1963,  
there were still empties.