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How Things Work

by Gary Soto

Today it's going to cost us twenty dollars
To live. Five for a softball. Four for a book,
A handful of ones for coffee and two sweet rolls,
Bus fare, rosin for your mother's violin.
We're completing our task. The tip I left
For the waitress filters down
Like rain, wetting the new roots of a child
Perhaps, a belligerent cat that won't let go
Of a balled sock until there's chicken to eat.
As far as I can tell, daughter, it works like this:
You buy bread from a grocery, a bag of apples
From a fruit stand, and what coins
Are passed on helps others buy pencils, glue,
Tickets to a movie in which laughter
Is thrown into their faces.
If we buy a goldfish, someone tries on a hat.
If we buy crayons, someone walks home with a broom.
A tip, a small purchase here and there,
And things just keep going. I guess.

Gary Soto

About this Poem:

Taking the form of a father’s explanation to his daughter, “How Things Work” comments on the monetary transactions that bind a community together.

About the Poet:

A leading voice in Chicano literature, Gary Soto has published eleven books of poetry since 1977. He lives in California.

Gary Soto, “How Things Work” from Black Hair (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1985). Copyright © 1985 by Gary Soto. Reprinted with the permission of the author.