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Poetry: aisled by Paul Tanner


was scraping some chewing gum off a shelf 
and this old woman comes up to me 
and she says, that’s terrible, that is,
and I say, yeah.
people shouldn’t do that, she says
and I say, no.
I finally get my knife under it and flick:
the hard pink splodge rips from the shelf, 
goes flying – pings off another shelf – slides on the floor 
and goes under another shelf. 
great. I get on my knees, put my head to the floor,
squint into the dark dust-fluffy undergrowth 
of the undershelf …
you left a mark, the old woman says. look,
the paint’s peeled away, she frets,
tapping on the shelf where it was. look!
I’m thinking about the 3 pallets of frozen food dripping in the warehouse. 
I’m thinking about the bleach spillage on aisle 4.
I’m thinking about the kid I can see climbing the shelves of glass jars in aisle 9. 
I’m thinking about my colleague who’s getting shoved by a man 
twice her size, over there, see, at the dairy chillers? 
but the old woman’s tapping the shelf, dunk dunk dunk, saying, look! 
and if I turn away,
if I so much as lower my eyelids
she will be offended 
(our paycheck is online only now 
and we all forgot our passwords.
we don’t even know 
what they’ve been paying us. 
look! dunk dunk dunk. you left a mark!) 
I wish I left a mark. I wish I could. 

About the author

TANNER has been earning minimum wage, and writing about it, for too long. He was shortlisted for the Erbacce 2020 Poetry Prize. “Shop Talk: Poems for Shop Workers” was published last year by Penniless Press. “No Refunds: Poems and cartoons from your local supermarket” is out now, from Alien Buddha Press.

Other work by

Paul Tanner on Flashes.

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Created in 2014, Flashes is a privately owned literary website. We publish short stories, non-fiction, flash fiction and poetry. Our goal is to give talented writers a platform to showcase their creativity, with an emphasis on original voice, innovative style and challenging plots.
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