“The Gospel According to Kelly, Night-Shift Manager, Forest City Fuel & Foods,” by Joe Wilkins

A weekly poem, read by the author.
Oct. 25 2011 6:52 AM

“The Gospel According to Kelly, Night-Shift Manager, Forest City Fuel & Foods”


Click the arrow on the audio player to hear Joe Wilkins read this poem. You can also download the recording or subscribe to Slate's Poetry Podcast on iTunes.

 
What sells in a recession: canned goods and condoms. Wine and liquor were also up.
                                                                                                —
Time Magagzine
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst ...
     they shall have their fill.
                                                —Matthew, 5.6

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.

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.

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For Slate's poetry submission guidelines, click here. Click here to visit Robert Pinsky's Favorite Poem Project site. Click here for an archive of discussions about poems with Robert Pinsky in "the Fray," Slate's reader forum.

Joe Wilkins is the author of a memoir, The Mountain and the Fathers, and a collection of poems, Killing the Murnion Dogs. He teaches at Waldorf College.

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