“Next in Line” by Josh Lefkowitz

Josh Lefkowitz


Ten minutes now he’s been talking to her, 
the pretty bank clerk with rouge-y cheeks. 
As far as I can tell the monetary transaction’s done, 
while this other one is only beginning. 

I am behind him in line, seventeen 
and learning. 
I’ve never seen an attempted courtship before. 

He wants her to come with him 
to a concert this weekend. She demurs, 
pretending to flip through deposit slips. 
He’s respectful enough, but not yet giving up. 
Inside him, empathy and instinct are waging their war. 

And now I can see it’s not rouge at all, but blushing, 
embarrassed for both of them. She came to work today, 
with a job to do and a salary to earn. 

This isn’t some singles bar. This is a bank 
inside of a grocery store. She’s here to help cash checks, 
not fend off the carnal longings of customers. 

Everything that happens next for me, 
by which I mean the decades and lives I’ll live, 
can be traced to this moment: 

when the man acquiesces, though not without leaving
his card behind, I take his place 
at the counter, and, like a toddler absorbing a native language, 
proceed to parrot behavior taught by example. 

“That’s a beautiful necklace,” I say, for reasons 
I don’t even know—I’m just trying it on, this new role—
as the woman, eyes down, sighs and shakes her head,
history rolling forward, a war with no end in sight.

from Rattle #70, Winter 2020


Josh Lefkowitz: “The two poems in this issue were both written care of the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center in New York Mills, Minnesota. It’s a town of approximately 1,200 people, which also happens to have this incredible arts center, complete with a visiting artist residency. I spent two of the best weeks of my life there—alone, lost in my work. The town has a diner, a library, and a BBQ restaurant. What more do you need?” (web)

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