November 6, 2008

Pam O’Brien

COUNTING COUPONS WITH THE ITALIAN LADIES

My mother marched across the street, convinced
Al Vicks to give me a job,
anything at all would be fine,
as long as it kept me off the beach,
as long as my 15-year-old body
in the pink bikini wasn’t beckoning
to every boy who passed by.

The next Monday, there I was
the youngest girl at PA Food Merchants Assn.
eight to five
third floor
screeching window fans
counting coupons with six loud ladies
sliding those coupons into wooden slots
Palmolive on the far left
Colgate in the middle
Campbells on the right
ranking them
5
10
15
cents.

There I was
the only worker under 50,
the only one who didn’t speak Italian.
The ladies bellowed scusa, aiutare, cuore, luce.
Sometimes they fed me bites
of their lunches, leftover casseroles,
garlic, flat noodles.

Angie, Lena, Marion, Maria
and two others whose names are gone now.
They talked about grandchildren, bunions,
red peppers on sale at the A&P,
stroked my hair, called me bella,
things my mother never did.

from Rattle #25, Summer 2006