Seattle resident T. Clear is a co-founder of Floating Bridge Press and facilitates Re/Write, a poetry workshop. Recent publications include Raven Chronicles, Bracken Magazine and Rise Up Review. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Award and Independent Best American Poetry Award. Her website is: tclearpoet.com.
May I Help You?
How could I have known
when I worked at JCPenney
to put myself through college,
that my name would remain on the schedule
forty more years, in nightmares?
It starts like this: I’m late.
My sixty-year-old self tries to fit
into a twenty-year-old body,
a blouse I’ll never again be able
to button, a skirt that won’t zip.
No shoes, my car stutters to a stall
and every day I forget my lunch.
Or my car fires up like a hotrod
but there’s no parking
from here to Canada.
Or acres of parking
but I get a ticket for expired tabs
and I can’t find the lunchroom.
I thought I quit.
Wanted a different life —
But this old one trails me
like a mismatched shadow, calls
on the rotary phone, hand-writes
my name on the 9-5 shift.
And look — they’ve rearranged
the floor plan again — cloth diapers
where size 5 bikinis once flutterered;
steel-belted textured double-knit pants
where last night I stacked a pyramid
of sculpted filigree burnt orange bath towels.
I go to sleep and I’m on my knees
fitting steel-toed boots onto feet
whose socks were last washed in 1953.
I wade through fitting rooms
deep with cast-off girdles, 18-hour bras
that both lift and separate, cross your heart.
Plastic hangers snap beneath my feet.
A customer wants to know
what size foundation garment she wears,
yanks up her shirt right there in view
of men’s Dickie’s carpenter pants
and flesh is spilling out of everywhere
as I suffer the constant ka-ching, ka-ching
of the manual cash register,
the triplicate charge slips,
the layaway tickets
that jam the feed mechanism
which means I have to call a supervisor
who is the mother
of the most prolific serial murderer
in American history
and I can’t wake up
even though it’s forty years later
and my Bachelor’s degree
is gathering dust at the bottom
of a box in the basement.
Would you like to try that on?
How many items do you have?
No I don’t have any in the back.
No that doesn’t come in pink.
Do you have a Penney’s account?
May I see your ID?
Do you need a gift box?
May I go home
and never come back?
May I go to sleep
and never dream of you again?