Almost no one else heard it, the bitch, bitch
thrown from the line
next to me. It was Thursday,
and the voice offered
its etceteras without saying much
else. But what is there to say
when your only contentment
is on the conveyor,
and the woman says no
to the cash in the palm of your hand?
I had layered my groceries:
some whole bean coffee, bananas,
whatever I’d been able to grab
in a few minutes. I wasn’t yet late.
What happened was small,
and I was buying
these things. Also ham
and peaches, a bag of pecans.
I heard the words simultaneously,
though he spread them apart.
I paid with a card (no signature
under 50 dollars) without turning
around. I can still hear the rasps
he used to backhand
that helpless cashier
who refused him the drink,
drunk as he was.
Security was called.
I turned to go out, and saw
the type of man you’d expect: sort of
gruff, sort of dirty,
trying to hold the closest thing
he had to a poem: a bottle
that might propel him
toward a new ungainly moment.
He wanted to hold that kind of wanting.
Next time I saw him
he was walking to the end
of the parking lot with the guard
at his elbow. The air was limp,
the road through the city
no longer parallel. Full of lament.
LAUREN CAMP is the author of two volumes of poetry, most recently The Dailiness, winner of the National Federation of Press Women 2014 Poetry Book Prize and a World Literature Today “Editor’s Pick.” Her third book, One Hundred Hungers, selected by David Wojahn for the Dorset Prize, is forthcoming. Winner of The Más Tequlia Review Margaret Randall Poetry Prize and the 2012 Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Award, Camp’s poems have appeared in Brilliant Corners, Beloit Poetry Journal, Linebreak, Nimrod, and other journals. She hosts “Audio Saucepan,” a global music/poetry program on Santa Fe Public Radio.
This poem was a finalist for our 2014 Auburn Witness Poetry Prize Honoring Jake Adam York. Learn more about our annual contest here.