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

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
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.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show