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November Ode

The blow has fallen, our dear dim local grocery
   been shut down by the State—not yet for good, though
   how, in whose wildest dreams, will it get
   its act together?

The son picked to succeed him never lived up to the
   seigneurial old man. Yet his clientele
   kept brightly toeing the line of least
   resistance, taking

with a grain of salt (Aisle 3) all talk of heavy drugs
   and light women, closing Republican eyes
   to dead mouse and decimated shelves.
   the padded statement;

nodding with vague good will to the taciturn widow
   upon her rare, black-shawled manifestations
   by the meat locker, or pausing the
   length of a joke with

the handsome, cock-eyed daughter (-in-law?) and her teenage
   sidekick—Zig-Zag cigarette-paper pirate
   freshly tattooed, indigo on bisque,
   upon his shoulder;

but failing to check a wave of perfect unconcern
   each time we stepped into sunlight. Alas for
   their compulsive Havaniceday! We
   had made other plans.

Small wonder the plate-glass windows one night were whited
   out as by frost (butcher’s paper), and pumpkin
   faces promised REDECORATION!
   GRAND REOPENING!

or that during those weeks of grace no light from inside
   shone, no rumor escaped. Like an old servant,
   face to the wall, refusing comfort,
   the place rebuffed us.

The big day came and went. So did the customers in
   disbelief. I could have warned them. Why, only
   mornings before, a rip in wintry
   blankness let me peer,

peer like Thoreau, cheek to the skylight of his glaucous
   parlor, down at wall-eyed denizens by cold
   and apathy hypnotized. There my
   three were suspended:

the aproned boy, head raised as if checking an order,
   the young woman at her counter, the old one,
   shawl held tight, mute in the gloaming still—
   their living simply

switched off at the source by the electric company?
   Plainer than day was how, next summer, this prime
   square footage would be developed in
   the usual way.

Oh well, what don’t we learn to live without? Our drugstore—
   gone forever. Likewise the rival grocer,
   the Syrian tailor, and the Greek
   who resoled our shoes.

Now, having watched their premises without exception
   change to antique shop or real estate office,
   and our neighbors into strangers charmed
   by what these offer,

we must ourselves go forth in hollow-eyed addiction
   to malls where all is maya, goblin produce,
   false-marble meats, tinned tunes, the powder
   promises of Cheer.

Victims of a force that in guises far more ghastly
   elsewhere upon our planet squanders its fruits,
   let us give thanks for what we’ve been spared,
   and let what is lost

(says the adage) be for God. Varying eerily
   from truth to truth, his voice—and never more than
   when speaking American—sounds like
   that of the people.

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