We Heart Our Customers
Try circling her total savings in red pen. Or blowing a kiss with her receipt. If this doesn’t work, rub her gray plastic bag between your thumb and index finger until it opens, until she lets you slip right in and you seal the deal with a Family and Friends Coupon. Afterwards, you can give her a genuine smile and use the word Great. She wants to see you again. You can bet your sweet bippy, your half-gone chapstick, even your non-compliant yellow footwear.
In some situations, you may need to take her hand and kiss the cuticles. Do this gently. Sometimes your store may run out of mediums or ivory sweaters. Sometimes the woman will desire you to hold her shopping cart. Look her in the eye and stroke her cash as you count it. One, two, three, four dollars. Try to speak softly when pronouncing totals, except of course, if she is elderly or hard of hearing.
I did not grade your essays
because I ate half of a Twix bar
in the grocery store parking lot
where I saw your thesis statements curl softly
near my tires. And the cart return boy
was using your voice
(I had said the first person was okay.
Or at least equivalent to an organic strawberry.)
My sister, on her days off, makes cookies from pre-made dough.
And one of you wrote an essay about the way
having sisters is scary, like when people type the letters
FML into cyberspace and exhale slowly,
as if coming to a conclusion
that sums up every point of the freshest, mint-sprayed thesis.
And the transitions are grocery store beeps—
it’s one customer to the next.
Your essays stacked neatly
on my industrial bookshelf were delicate buds opening
in my windowless office
all weekend, but especially in that moment
when I heard all of your words (and even the works cited entries)
hollering my name right before the shopping cart
rumbled back into the corral
and my sister, in her apron,
looked at the clock and thought of her daughter
waiting at home.
Emilie Lindemann holds a PhD in English-Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Her chapbook, Dear Minimum Wage Employee, is forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press. Emilie is an assistant professor at Silver Lake College in her hometown, Manitowoc. When she’s not teaching, she frequents grocery stores; she enjoys the calm of a department store fitting room.
Q: Are shopping centers the spiritual home of the contemporary lyric poem?
A: Maybe. I choose to set my poems in consumer spaces because I want the cashiers and other speakers to reclaim the store or checkout counter as their own space. I want my poems to show that behind aprons, polo shirts, and name tags are real people—people who get hungry, bored, or upset.
Q: Did you have a secret name for yourself as a child? Or perhaps a secret friend?
A: No, I didn’t have a secret name or secret friend. As the oldest of eleven children I had plenty of siblings to play with.
Q: Tell us about winter and summer in Manitowoc County.
A: As a child, I rode the city bus for fun with my mother and siblings in the summertime. We pretended we were tourists on vacation and ate Chinese food for lunch. The seats on the bus were red vinyl—maybe they still are.