Sunday

Mar. 17, 2002

In Line At The Supermarket

by Greg Pape

SUNDAY, 17 MARCH 2002
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Poem: "In Line At The Supermarket," by Greg Pape from Storm Pattern (University of Pittsburgh Press).

In Line At The Supermarket

Here you've got time to think.
Between the breath mints
and the glamour magazines
you can feel yourself growing old
as you read the headlines
of the non-newspapers: "Country Doctor
Performs Head Transplant On Alien"
or something homier, "Passionate Groom
Kills Bride With First Kiss."
You're growing old alright,
but you'll never be as old
as the woman who runs her shopping cart
up against your hip bone
and keeps on pushing until you
have to say "Stop!" She stares at you
through the faintest blue haze,
her face ancient, perverse,
and you wonder what she sees.
The couple in front of you
have time to debate their selections.
"We don't need a ham this big," he says,
as he holds it under her nose.
"Yes we do" and she places her fingertips
on the ham and pushes it back down,
lightly, to the stalled conveyor.
They are younger than you are,
but it's hard to tell how much younger.
They too look worn and tired.
You stare at her spiked yellow hair
and her bare shoulders
just a breath away. On her left
shoulder a tattoo, like a brand,
that says Mike in shaky cursive.
You wonder if this man is Mike.
You think about slavery.
There was a man you worked with once
whose style was cool, ironic
like dry ice. He referred to his
nightshift job as a slave.
"This is my second slave" he said,
meaning he had a day job too,
meaning we have to become caricatures
of ourselves in order to do these jobs,
in order to live like this.
You wonder what Mike does
for a living. You stare at the tattoo
on his arm, a skull
with wings where the ears were,
and under that, in case you don't
get it, written in ribbony script,
all capitals, the word DEATH.
For some reason you want to laugh
but don't because Mike, if that's
his name, has just turned to you
out of boredom, and in a friendly voice
you wouldn't have expected
says "Man, this place is slow,
but I'd rather shop here
than that Pantry Pride down the street.
My old lady went there last week
for groceries, and when she came out
the car was stripped, wheels and everything.
That's a bad neighborhood, man,
you never know who you're gonna meet."

It's the day tradition says St Patrick died, in Saul, County Down, Ireland ( circa 460 AD). He was born to Christian parents, probably in Britain, but pirates carried him away as a boy and made him a slave in Ireland. He stayed there for six years, and then had a dream one night in which a voice told him that a ship was waiting to take him back to Britain. After several years in Britain, he had another dream, in which the voices of people he had known in Ireland begged him to return and preach to them. His Confessions are the first written records of the Irish people. In the Confessions, St. Patrick says, "I am, then, first of all, countrified, an exile, evidently unlearned, poorly equipped to anticipate events to come, but I know for certain, that before I was humbled I was like a stone lying in deep mire, and he that is mighty came and in his mercy, raised me ."

On this day in 1959, the Dalai Lama, then a young man of twenty-four, fled Tibet.

On this day in 1899, Marconi's wireless radio distress signal was first used to call for help after the German ship Elbe went aground in a heavy fog on the Goodwin Sands. The association responsible for the upkeep of lighthouses in Britain had been looking for a system to provide communication between lighthouses and the mainland, and Marconi demonstrated his signaling apparatus for them in December of 1898. They were impressed, installed Marconi's equipment, and used it three times in the first four months after the system went into operation.


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