Sunday

May 29, 2005

Supermarket Scanner

by Elise Partridge

SUNDAY, 29 MAY, 2005
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Supermarket Scanner" by Elise Partridge from Fielder's Choice. © Vehicule Press. Reprinted with permission.

Supermarket Scanner

Grocery-checkstand
pair of hands;
staring down,
she scans, she scans,
chocolate bars,
a dozen cans
of "French-style" peas,
jars-mayo, jam...
schooled to please
customers shifting
foot to foot—
Good morning, ma'am!
Pound of lard,
celery, cola—
barely twenty-one,
no time to scan
—a pack of gum,
debit card—
a human face,
no moment free
to ask the regular
how she is,
the muttering man—
Your Time is Money!
Our checkers' speed
Is guaranteed!

Six ears of corn—
worked here three years,
(her mother was
a checker too)
—frozen poundcake—
no better jobs
except the mill.
Powdered milk,
"Improved! NEW!"
puppy kibbles,
large squeeze
bottle of cheese
with coupons
Free!
a pack of Trues,
crisp new bills.
Eight customers
watch her arrange
the eggs, the cans,
potato chips
in the plastic sack
and hand them back.
No change today?
No, no change.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Patrick Henry, born in Hanover County, Virginia (1736). In 1775, he said, "I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death."


It's the birthday of the novelist G.K. Chesterton, born in London (1874).


It's the birthday of the novelist T.H. White, born in Bombay, (1906) who wrote The Sword in the Stone.


It was on this day in 1988, President Ronald Reagan went to the Soviet Union for the first time—a country he had called "The Evil Empire." It was the last of four summit meetings between Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, to talk about nuclear arms control.

Reagan was actually going against the opposition of many people in his own party to work on arms control. Many conservatives at the time thought arms control was dangerous. The Russians could not be trusted. Some Republicans had tried to block passage of the INF Treaty, which limited the use of certain long-range missiles that same year. Many conservatives worried that Reagan was being duped by Gorbachev, but Reagan had come to believe that cooperation was the way to end the Cold War. He said in an interview, "The people who are objecting and refusing even to accede to the idea of ever getting any understanding between us and the Soviet Union, those people basically, down in their deepest thoughts, have accepted that war is inevitable."

When the president and his wife arrived in Moscow, they were escorted to the Kremlin. People lined up along the street by the thousands to see him. He was treated like a hero. Reagan spent time on his trip arguing that Gorbachev had not gone far enough in the area of human rights. He gave Gorbachev a list of Russians who had been prevented from leaving the country, asked Gorbachev to release them, and by the time the summit was over, more then 300 people on that list had been released.

The president visited with dissidents and artists. He gave speeches quoting Russian writers, many of whom had been censored or banned: Dostoevsky and Solzhenitsyn.

He gave speeches about democracy to Russian university students. In one speech, he said, "A democracy requires...embracing the vast diversity of humanity, and doing it with humility, listening as best you can, not just to those with high positions, but to the cacophonous voices of ordinary people, and trusting those millions of people, keeping out of their way...The word we have for this is 'freedom.'"

No major arms reduction agreements were reached in Moscow. The summit was dismissed by some as a mere photo opportunity, but many people saw the image of Reagan walking through Red Square as a sign that the Cold War was indeed coming to an end. And it soon did, in 1989, when Democratic governments took power in Germany, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia. By 1991, the Cold War was over.


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