This Saturday you’re behind the counter
in the work coat you want to shed
like an unwanted skin at the end of your shift.
There’s the 5 o’clock rush to get through
and you don’t want to hear how Michael on bags
got an extra shift at Subway to save for his car.
Your white name tag lets the customers think
they can call you by your name;
the logo on your chest promises a New World
but little was gained from the shelvers’ lockout.
What’s left after the prepaid’s paid for
you’ll put to a silver Playboy necklace
with an imitation diamond eye, or
a pair of Nike trainers, each whoosh
a tick for a Vietnamese child’s
fourteen hour day. Last week Tala
gave you Resurrection and you copied
Tupac Shakur’s name into your senior
social studies notebook in the style
of a typeface owned by the Sony corporation.
You hand back the man’s Flybuy card, try
not to frown as he fumes when the EFTPOS
doesn’t take his pin. On your inside
left thigh there’s a tattoo of the Vietnamese
character for love you let no-one but Tala
see. You got the idea from Angelina Jolie
now it has become your own and beneath black
polyester pants the sigil warms you;
keeps you real.
I wrote this in 2006 feeling frustrated by the dispute between Progressive Enterprises ( a massive company) and supermarket workers. The claims of the workers seemed to me to be so reasonable and yet it resulted in a strike and lock-out. It was published in the USA in Richard Smyth’s journal Albatross. I spent a while on this one—I was aiming for a rough or punky edge to the poem which hopefully adds to the music rather than lessens it. Earlier this year I was using Webcrawler for a week—breaking the Google habit—and being self-engrossed (and wondering which libraries had bought our Asperger book) I ’web-crawled’ myself and found that the poem had been copied and attributed to me on Three Quarks Daily. I was pleased that they had liked the poem enough to copy it but felt that it would have been nice for them to let me know!
Harvey Molloy was born in Oldham, England and emigrated with his family to New Zealand in the 1970s. He studied English at Victoria University, Massey University, and the University of Florida where he completed a doctorate. He worked as a writer/information architect during the ’90s before taking a teaching position at the National University of Singapore. He now lives in Wellington where he teaches English and Drama at Porirua College. Harvey is a rising star in Wellington’s poetry firmament. His poems have appeared in NZ Listener, JAAM and Takahe, and he is a previous winner of the New Zealand Poetry Society’s international poetry award. This poem comes from his first book Moonshot, published by Steele Roberts.
I love the way Harvey isn’t afraid to get a little nasty and downbeat, it shows off his inner punk. The supermarket workers don’t get off lightly either, everyone’s material obsessions pale against “each whoosh / a tick for a Vietnamese child’s / fourteen hour day”.
For more Tuesday Poems visit the Tuesday Poem blog.