“Shelf Life” by Terry Spohn

Terry Spohn


And I asked myself about the
present: how wide it was, how deep
it was, how much was mine to keep.
—Kurt Vonnegut

I was making a movie in a suburb
in a grocery store in a housewife’s dream
I was holding a cardboard megaphone and a clipboard
somewhere an empty chair was waiting
the housewife had known me once
long ago, better than I had known myself
she pushed her cart down the condiment aisle
one front wheel fidgeting
like an idiot prince at his birthday party
on the tasting table Barwell’s Pickled Beets
the color of Grandfather’s lung
sat untouched in their delicate paper cups
the housewife kept a list
clenched tightly in her fist
if it fell and unrolled
it could reach all the way into her next marriage
the canned vegetable aisle was veined
with cables and heavy plugs wrapped in black tape
like the ground at church carnivals
this was as close as the woman
had been to me in years
she moved up and down the narrowing aisles
while the cart filled up with children
I could almost touch her in her sleep
could almost wake her
I had memorized the script
that could almost free her
but I was busy changing it
the movie would run backwards, all right
all the children disappearing
creamed corn bursting from cans
and flowing back through factories
and into the sun, and we would all soon begin
to forget, as we came out of the theater
squinting in the startling daylight
who, exactly, we had come here with
and which of these bright, new cars was ours

from Rattle #35, Summer 2011


Terry Spohn: “I always wanted to be a writer. I wrote my first poems when I was eleven and they had important things to say. As an adult I was disappointed to find I no longer had anything important to say: I was an empty vessel. It took some years before I realized that this is one of the things a poet needs to be. Now, in the final umpteen years of my lifelong plunge back into the earth, the world rushing up at me has grown larger than I could have imagined when I was young. Wonderous things come into focus, and all I need to do is keep my eyes open and keep breathing—the same comforts I find in writing poetry.”

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