1 Feb
Posted in: Poems
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Behind the Counter

Corner-Store-BlueI went to the post office today to fill out forms, get my picture taken, and send in a surprising amount of money to get my passport renewed. There was a long line. It wasn’t moving. I watched myself starting to get tangled up in a lot of “it shouldn’t be like this”….and then I relaxed and looked a little more carefully…and I noticed how the woman behind the counter was really trying to be helpful — and caring — to the woman at the head of the line who was clearly having a difficult time of it. And then, all of a sudden, the waiting wasn’t all that much of a problem.

In tribute, I offer this poem for today:

At the Corner Store
by Alison Luterman

He was a new old man behind the counter,
Skinny and eager.
He greeted me like a long-lost daughter,
As if we both came from the same world,
Someplace warmer and more gracious than this cold city.
I was thirsty and alone. Sick at heart, grief-soiled,
And his face lit up as if I were his prodigal daughter
Coming back to the freezer bins in front of the register
Which were still and always filled
With the same old Cable Car ice cream sandwiches and cheap frozen greens.
Back to the knobs of beef and packages of hotdogs,
These familiar shelves strung with potato chips and corn chips,
Stacked-up beer boxes and immortal Jim Beam.
I lumbered to the case and bought my precious bottled water
And he returned my change, beaming
As if I were the  bright new buds on the just-bursting-open cherry trees,
As if I were everything beautiful struggling to grow,
And he was blessing me as he handed me my dime
Over the counter and the plastic tub of red licorice whips.
This old man who didn’t speak English
Beamed out love to me in the iron week after my mother’s death
So that when I emerged from his store
My whole cock-eyed life —
What a beautiful failure —
Glowed gold like a sunset after rain.
Frustrated city dogs were yelping in their yards,
Mad with passion behind their chain-link fences,
And in the driveway of a peeling-paint house
A woman and a girl danced to contagious reggae.
Praise Allah! Jah! The Buddha! Kwan Yin,
Jesus, Mary, and even jealous old Jehovah!
For eyes, hands,
Of the divine, everywhere.

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