I Wrote a Series of Poems During My Last Summer Working Retail

I came across them again, and honestly, they’re not what I expected

Let’s be clear: I’m not a poet. The required Poetry 101 course I took in undergrad was the bane of my existence, and I spent my graduate years in quiet awe of my poetic classmates.

Yet, since April is National Poetry Month, I’ve been thinking about whether I’d like to take up the “poem a day” challenges surfacing across the internet.

I think there’s a value in stretching ourselves creatively and doing something outside our norm — it can get the juices flowing and break us out of a creative rut. Even if the poems I produce aren’t that good, they might help unlock other ideas and projects.

Then, I remembered that I’ve had that thought once before, in the summer after I graduated college.

I was finishing out my summer at the retail job I’d worked for the past four and a half years and had received no less than 10 rejection letters from MFA programs. Steeped in self doubt, I worried whether I would ever be a real writer.

Somehow, this translated into a desire to use my creative energies at work, composing poems in my head during the more mindless tasks during my shifts.

I’d honestly forgotten about this series of 30 poems I generated that year, but I got curious and decided to dig them up.

They’re not quite what I expected.

Many of them are indeed terrible poems, but some of them are (if I do say so myself) kind of funny. They all provide a fascinating lens to look back and remember that particular time in my life.

Working retail is a unique experience, and my years at TJ Maxx are something I reflect back on often. These poems remind me of who I was at that time in my life, and what working in customer service taught me.

So, with full awareness that these are not the highest poetic accomplishments, I thought I’d share a few of them in honor of National Poetry Month. The first selection appears below, and I’ll update this post with links as I drop new poems.

I encourage you to seek out the work of one of our many phenomenal contemporary poets out there! A great resource for following along with National Poetry Month is Poets.org.

A Few of My “Favorite” Things

Written July 3, 2014 after a shift at TJ Maxx (all thoughts my own)

Children, unwatched, run through the aisles.
But employees must greet their parents with smiles,
Though they tear through the store — small tornadoes,
Rifling through racks full of freshly shipped clothes.
Never mind that I’m trying to put them away,
Or use them to fill — again — an empty display.
Babies that wail, assaulting my ears.
Sticky faces dribbled with — I hope — tears.
The eternal question, “Can you mark this thing down?”
Respond with a “no,” lips pull into a frown,
Give them “99 cents” and they scoff to my face,
Like I get to make up the rules in this place.
The silence that follows when I say “How are you?”
Or say “have a good day,” and get no “you, too.”
This list could go on, for each day of the year.
But you know what, I’m tired. I think I’ll stop here.

Thanks for reading, and happy National Poetry Month!

Pittsburgh-based writer & wearer of many metaphorical hats. Making words about self, health, books, travel, and more! She/her.

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