“Food Lion, Winchester, Tennessee”

Listen to Joe Osterhaus  read this poem.

From here, the line seems not to move at all;
back beneath a clock that diamonds the hours
with blushing vents of coke. At last, we crawl
forward, just as Tess, the salesclerk, lowers
her chin and yanks her cash drawer from the register;
*******then taps out the short stacks
***of rust-green twenty-dollar bills.
*********Her sub attacks
the bottles of a woman who won’t look at her;
who tilts and prods a pin pad with a stylus.


Night sways at the lit boundary of the lot.
Downroad, a Lotto billboard dances with flies,
whose reels card strands of glare, and epaulet
a gambler shaking the bias from two dice
and a drum sunk in the embankment, gouged with rust.
*******Inside, the clockwork mists
***track Raleigh’s world: from a field
*********of broad leaves, twists
of cured tobacco; and, from harbors gigged with rest,
a waxwork queen wept on a waxwork shield.

Once past a bivouac of pans and tents
the new arrivals check their pace, outmatched.
Wheels corkscrewing, they stop for condiments
and, by their ribbons, show the troops dispatched
to stations in the crescent gulf are family
*******to some; acquaintances
***to many more. And those absences,
*********drawn out so long,
weigh in their words and eyes. Though I chose differently,
who’ll say for all of us: we’re not that strong?