At the tired little market
In my sleepy little town
The checkout man scans my items.
“I like peaches,” he comments,
As he drops mine hard into a sack.
(Tomorrow they’ll be bruised.)
His hands shake, his cheeks glow,
Reddened not by sun but scotch.
The checkout lady sags with age
And poverty. In her Indian lilt
She always asks after the children.
And I always sing out a response,
To match the music in her voice.
“They are well,” I trill, even when
They are miles and miles from well.
Because one does, doesn’t one?
At the deli slouch two workers:
Heavy women wearing hair nets
And butchers’ smocks. Customers
Set them to gossiping while they
Lumber back and forth with meats
And cheeses, as required. Oh,
The way they mutter: “So many
Goddamn kinds of ham we sell.”
(Virgina, Black Forest — who’s
To keep them straight, and why?)
In the corner the manager sits up,
And clears his throat. “Clean-up,
Aisle 4,” he calls, for a shopper
Has dropped a jar: Ragu Traditional.
On the floor, glass, sauce, red mess.
Transfixed by guilt, the woman waits
With her spill, until a teen dragging
A mop from the back moseys along,
As if he just might take care of it.
The woman scurries away, leaving
Her cart to sprint for the exit, away
From the stale air and sad people…
…At the tired little market
In my sleepy little town.