NEXT IN LINE
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
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)