Tuesday, October 2, 2007

To the Woman Ahead of Me in the Checkout Line, Buying Lottery Tickets

Lady, this is already your lucky day.

Lucky for you that, when I was a boy,
my mother took forever in the grocery store,
stopping to chat with someone in every aisle,
and in the eternities while my mother talked
I learned to live another life inside my head.

Lucky for you that my friend and I recently had
a conversation about all the impulses
we successfully resist—the sudden, irrational urge
to swerve off the side of the road, or to fold
our bulletins into paper airplanes and launch them
at the minister, or to beat the woman
buying lottery tickets over the head with a 16-oz.
can of diced tomatoes. Why don’t we
do more damage—or more good? Our worst
and our best impulses are like the Powerball—
we keep buying the tickets, but we never hit the jackpot.

Lucky for you that, even this late in the year,
I’ve kept my New Year’s resolution
to be more patient in the checkout line.
Sometimes, in fact, I deliberately choose
the slowest line. I stand behind the old woman
who smells of cigarettes, whose shaking hand
will take forever to write out a check, because patience
is something I need to learn—especially
with two sons who are always late for the bus
because there’s something they can’t find,
or who send me back to the store
because there’s always something I’ve forgotten.


Jim H. said...

Teaching one's self patience is a good thing; writing a poem about it is even better.

Brautigan wrote a little piece called "Complicated Banking Transactions." He's in line at the bank and the old woman in front of him is trying to deposit a refrigerator full of shadows and a man in front of him is trying to cash in a wheel-barrow full of pennies (or something like that). He waits patiently to cash his little $10.00 check. "I have it in my hand, pointed in the direction of the teller..."

I'll look at that essay again tonight and put it up somewhere.

("Put it up" on a blog entry, not in a Mason jar in the basement.)

Jim Haas

Jim H. said...

Oh, how the memory plays tricks. The Brautigan piece about waiting in line at the bank (now posted at Trout Fishing in Minnesota)does not feature a refigerator full of shadows, but the shadow of a refrigerator. It does not feature a wheelbarrow full of coins, but piles and piles of checks to be deposited in various accounts.

Still, it is about waiting in line and being patient (though ill at ease).

Rob, I love your line about doing more good or more harm. What constrains us on either end of that spectrum? That is the Big Question in my business.

New Poem: "Phrasebook"

My poem " Phrasebook " has been published online in Ergon: Greek/American Arts and Letters .