A Quiet Shift

by Joe Engel

Here is a poem that was first published in “Other Poetry”, an English poetry journal, about a decade ago. I wrote it at about that same time. It came about from late night runs to 24 hour grocery stores. It was a great time to shop. There were no lines, there was no rush, and I became familiar with the 3rd shift clerk who rang up my pizza or ice cream or beer. Grocery stores are peaceful places at 1 AM, and every now and then I saw (other) colorful shoppers too.

The late night clerk knew

what they were doing in aisle ten

under white light 

beside the baby sundries 

a beer in the cup holder 

of the Civic parked sideways

in the space

for expectant mothers.

First a sigh and then

a spin knocks

a bag of diapers

to the shine of speckled tiles.

Their tongues come out

to meet like two dark worms.

That clerk with hair sustained

since Reagan sees

this below her bangs 

every Thursday morning.

The same man, living his dream

in a late night plume. 

Lemon juice in her eyes, salt

in the cracks of her lips.

It’s nearly religious

not to drive

a shopping cart

into the door of that Civic

or grow a word against him

besides “drunk” 

as he falls

down the aisles in a blur.

His date sways

on his arm like August

laughing as he spanks

her with a pizza. 

The night clerk watches

as they tumble

towards her stall and stop

at glossy tabloids 

where their fingers flutter

and dive at mini skirts

before he drudges up

his wallet from a river

carving through the caverns

of his bomber jacket.

A card glides out 

for her to take,

lingers in his shadow 

cast across her blouse, 

his cologne all over 

like an offer 

that pins her in a turn

from buzz to serenade 

led by a trio of mice

bowing tiny violins

within the dogged

whirr of freezers.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s