“The Gospel According to Kelly, Night-Shift Manager, Forest City Fuel & Foods”
What sells in a recession: canned goods and condoms. Wine and liquor were also up.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst ...
they shall have their fill.
When you come, with your hunger, I will fill you—
tier upon tier of bubble gum & breath mints & sour balls,
stacks of months-old white bread, slick packages of bologna,
sweet pickles & okra pickles & the pickled underlips of pigs,
all manner of potted meats & yellowed salad dressing & the hen
long ago unhinged & shellacked & frozen & just this morning
tossed & fried in a goodly amount of brown grease
& all these hours later deepening in flavor & tang
beneath the buttery light of a heat lamp for you, for you.
When you come, with your thirst, I will slake you—
in cloudy plastic bottles the generic blue juice that stains
alike the round mouths of babes & derelicts, the tall cans
of caffeinated syrup sucked down by bony, acned boys,
whose necks hitch & chuckle & shake, who wipe wet mouths
on shirtsleeves, who pay with bills rumpled in warm palms
& stink of river mud & yeast, who in a few short years will rise
& in dark fits of themselves wander the wine aisle
& pour down those same hitching throats squat bottles
of Mad Dog, & so those Friday evenings, when boys wander
& itch & lick their chapped lips, they will find chocolate milk
is on sale, & Gatorade, & Mountain Dew, & the strange
electric blue juice they drank when they were not boys
but boys, & for you, all of this is for you. When you come,
the teeth of late winter gnashing at your fat heart’s flesh—
I will pile high & higher the boxes of glazed chocolate donuts,
deftly heft the half-rack of High Life, the Bic & cigarettes,
& turn, as you ask me to turn, & unlock the glass case,
for I do not understand but understand this night you need
a jackknife, a box of condoms, No Doz, Nyquil—I will,
& without slinging a single word, ring up each item
& place each in a small, white sack & bless & bless
these hungers, these throat-wracking thirsts—like hope
they are what we have, & here in the far corner of the night,
among the bean-rusted fields & gutted factories of the Midwest—
what else do we have? Stranger, a scuff of light shatters
the linoleum, let me lay my hand a moment in yours,
count out for you these few coins.