Terence Winch

Two Poems from Boning Up

Volume 17:1, Winter 2016
Some Of Us Press Issue

The Garbage Sacrifices

All over America after dinner
tonight you can see them:
in kitchen after kitchen
woman after woman is bending
over the garbage bag, scraping
her plate clean.

Behind her the family lines up,
each to scrape his plate. Bits
of glistening fat, bread crusts,
bones, stumps of asparagus,
greasy napkins.
It’s all thrown into the bag.

The families fill up all the bags.
After dark, the youngest son
brings the bag into the alley
and stuffs it into a can, crushing
the bags other families have already
put there. The families must fill
up all the cans.

Early in the morning before it’s
really light, the men come
for all the bags while
the families are asleep.

But every so often
a family forgets
to put its bag in the can
and the men come and find
that a bag is missing.

And on those dark mornings
when the men come
and find that a bag is missing,
one family always disappears.

Terence Winch, 1973. Photo by John Gossage.

Terence Winch, 1973. Photo by John Gossage.

The Ripoff

Two prematurely gray men accost me
outside of the store, seizing my wrists.
They say (both raising a fist),
“You have merchandise on you that you took for free.”

I smirk and say, “O yeah? Prove it!
I didn’t do anything at all.”
They advise me of my rights:
I can make one phone call.

They produce a professional photographer.
He begins to pass out snapshots to everybody.
He has about thirty or forty, maybe more.
(The photographer has been through all this before.)

It is me all right, slyly stuffing things
down my pants, up my sleeves, in my socks,
into secret pockets sewn onto my coat,
hiding all sorts of stuff, pulling out the stops.

People are aghast. They look at the photographs,
then up at me, then back again,
hardly believing their eyes.
It’s me all right. (What a surprise.)

The two men bring me to the back room
and make me sign a confession.
They put their cigarettes on my face
and pull off my fingernails to teach me a lesson.

They say, “What you have done is very wrong, you know.”
I answer, “I was going to put it all back,
only I forgot. Honestly, I meant to pay, for sure.”
They say, “They all say that.”

They tell me to come clean, cough it up.
I remove a Wilson basketball, official size,
from my back pocket, a prize turkey,
I jiggle out of my pants leg.

I zip open my fly, reach in and pull out
a dozen different credit cards, several noisemakers,
party hats for all three of us, a few other things.
I give them back their wallets and wedding rings.

I lean towards one of them, reach behind his ear
and produce two hardboiled eggs.
I extract a chicken from between his partner’s legs
and stick it in his hat.

They say, “We’ve met your kind before. No respect.
Think everything’s a joke. You fucking reject.
We’re not through with you yet.
Now, what else did you get?”


Of the literary community of the 1970s, Winch writes: “I credit Michael Lally and, later, Doug Lang with being the two most significant catalysts in those days…The counterculture was still in full swing in those days, so the networks were political, sexual, cultural, as well as esthetic…Most of the local poets—the Mass Transit and Folio veterans—all lived in DC, mostly in Dupont Circle, and spent a good deal of time together. Eating. Drinking. Smoking. Writing poems. Going to movies. Smoking some more.”


Terence Winch’s latest book, That Ship Has Sailed, was published in 2023 as part of the Pitt Poetry Series from the University of Pittsburgh Press. He is the author of eight earlier poetry collections. A Columbia Book Award and American Book Award winner, he has also written a young adult novel called Seeing-Eye Boy and two story collections, Contenders and That Special Place. His work has appeared in many journals and in more than 50 anthologies, among them the Oxford Book of American Poetry, Poetry 180, and 6 editions of Best American Poetry. He is the recipient of an NEA Poetry Fellowship and a Gertrude Stein Award for Innovative Writing, among other honors. The works featured here are from his forthcoming book of occasional love poems called It Is as If Desire, due in 2024 from Hanging Loose Press.