“Stockboy” by Joseph A. Chelius

Joseph A. Chelius


It was a privilege those first afternoons
to bag groceries for the cashiers
and be sent like a shepherd
after a herd of carts that had strayed
from the pasture of the parking lot—
carts he found adrift on corners,
left to graze at curbs, against telephone poles. 

And later, to have the honor 
of going out again in his zippered fleece
to clean up the boxes
the full-timers had been flinging
out the back door and into the driveway—

empty boxes of Contadina tomato paste
and Smucker’s jam with broken jars
that brought out the bees
like late bargain hunters to market—
picking over the remnants. 

So lucky for him to have been given this job,
his parents reminded him each night at dinner,
when instead of frittering away time after school,
playing touch football with his friends,

he was gaining valuable experience in the work force,
carrying boxes to the squat compactor
in a dank-smelling shed among mildewed pallets,

glancing skyward every so often
as geese flew by in their straight formations,
the leaders sounding remarkably 
like the store manager, honking orders,
with him turning a doleful eye toward the stragglers—
wary and uncertain, awaiting the next turn.

from Rattle #57, Fall 2017


Joseph A. Chelius: “I am drawn to poems and stories about work—the physical details involved in office life or in unskilled laboring jobs, such as loading a van, stocking grocery shelves, or scouring lockers with steel wool. My earliest jobs taught me how to get along in this world—how to submit myself to routines of a working day and to treat my co-workers with dignity and respect.”

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