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
so I am FUCKING RAPT.
(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.