ODE TO THE WALMART BAG
This White-winged Dove was just
minding her own wingbeats
when all of a sudden her head got bit
completely off by a turkey vulture.
That dead dove made me jump when it
hit the hood of my Chrysler. She was headless
and hardly bleeding. Luckily, I already had
a Walmart bag on my hand due to an
unrelated dog turd situation I’ll address later.
When I picked her up, I felt her warm body
through the plastic. That’s one thing I love
about Walmart bags, they can tell you
exactly how alive or dead a dove is.
Sometimes a memory can blow into your life
like a Walmart bag blows into a mulberry tree.
When I was a boy in Montgomery,
Mourning Doves kept getting their heads snapped off
by this snapping turtle in my dad’s koi pond.
The turtle waited for their beaks to break the surface.
I’d pick them up with a Walmart bag on my hand
and escort them like a southern gentleman
to the dumpster. I was so happy not to be barehanded.
They weren’t always Walmart bags.
Sometimes they were Piggly Wiggly bags or A&P bags,
just like in John Updike’s short story “A&P”,
but there was no girl in a plaid green two piece,
and there was no married man at the register
shaking out paper bags as gently as peeling a peach
because this was the early 1980s, The Golden Age
of the Plastic Bag. Well, I take that back. We did have
one girl in a plaid green two piece named Mary-Aileen
who lived across the street from me in Montgomery.
I remember her saying, plastic bags always feel like
they’re gonna break, but never do.
Thus began my love affair.
Of course it really started with Sten Thulin,
the Swedish engineer with a deviated septum
who invented the modern plastic bag in 1962.
But this poem isn’t about dinosaurs or crude,
or his nostrils and how much air flows through,
or the frivolous abuse of a single-use.
No, this is about how right after lunch
I used a Walmart bag on my right hand
to remove baby turds from our new sofa.
And about how after that, I used a Walmart bag
to pick up a dozen backyard dog turds
laced with long grey hairs.
They were so tender and fresh and brown
they made me vomit in my mouth.
But the efficiency of protection the bag
offered my hand, and the efficacy
the bag afforded this situation
was somehow beautiful and classic
like Ali MacGraw in Love Story,
and then a second time in Dynasty.
I was at a National Grocers convention once
where a young man stood up and asked about
the environmental ramifications of the plastic bag.
It took nearly 500 years for the laughter to die down.
The chairman said finally, look, sure,
plastic bags can be carried great distances
by ocean currents and some say they can
“strangle” creatures of the sea, but what if you
were all alone on a dinghy
with a pit bull mix, and a baby, and suddenly
you needed to rectify a fecal situation
but you refused to use your bare hands,
what would you do? Thankfully, these days
you can just reach down and grab a Walmart bag
from atop the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
So next time you see a Walmart bag
sun baked and wind torn on barbed wire
or snagged on a saguaro, know at one time,
it was a lonely gray parachute,
innocent, unemployed and free
without the faintest idea of a ballast,
a container riding the jet stream
like a bald eagle, a vessel
with no idea that one day
it would rise again, destined
for dog turds, baby turds
and sometimes headless birds.
By Tim Staley