The Kart Kaptain This Nubian princess--one pristine pearl In each lobe, on each cheekbone a sheen Silver-rose--as Congreve wrote, she stoops to Conquer, instead of a scepter, a stick to stab Trash in the lot of the 90 Cent Store, so named To shame all rivals. Blue blood rules out shoddy Work: she attacks scattered scraps. At store’s Entry, a guard: the dark wiry Kart Kaptain, her Nametag proclaims--uniform, bright orange Vest. Her post, outdoor sentry, in sleet or in Sweat. Cart gone, job gone. She scans As I approach. I’ve seen that face before: Civil War photos, the field hand who stares At the lens like a stone, in disdain of day’s Humiliations. Labor for life, not reward. The Kart Kaptain maintains command presence--her Ally, the red-bearded janitor, told me she’d Slipped up just once. Begged by her daughter, She’d got her grandson a job as a bagger, Scapegrace who’d jammed cigarettes down his Jeans for a week to buy crack. Christmas Eve, Closing, she’d frisked him--seized his stash, Banished him. For her, just one more dream Dashed. Since then, it’s the trash girl she’s Chosen to keep on the path, bracing her with A scripture a day, shouted over the cars: “They Made me keeper of the vineyard--but mine Own vineyard I have not kept!” The girl waves: Each quarter, she shows her her grades. Gum Wrapper dropped in the bin, I walk in. This store, Reborn each season: Christmas, reds and greens, Tinsel from China, pine-sprayed cardboard wreaths. Easter, pastels: penny candies in eggs, crosses, Bunnies of tin that limp-hop. Children must have Their joys: plastic bags sheathe brittle toys, fashion Dolls, army men. For anxious parents, dime Flashcards for math, grammar workbooks that Promise success. By the register always: La Luz De Tu Fe, The Light of Your Faith, tall glassed Candles: children barefoot cross a bridge that A blonde angel guards. Or on his fine steed, Martin de Cabellero, sword halving his cloak For a freezing old man. Or else the other Martin, de Porres, a generous stranger who Cares for the sick. Those who in real Life do this work, the grandmoms and Moms, with what scant help they know, Take these home. Behind me now in The checkout, a Vietnamese girl, her face Blank and lined, cart heaped high, wilted Cabbage heads--meals for so many, so Long, for a song! Ahead, shooting me Over his shoulder a sharp guarded stare, Tattooed biker, hard eyes like Sargent’s Henry James: in that face, truculence? Suffering? He shoves his beers far down The belt, barks: “Here!”--space for my Armload of paper towels, too gaudy For finer stores. Once outside, the Kart Kaptain’s curt nod grants safe passage, Past normal bounds, so the pusher of Cabbages can reach her truck. Kaptain Then scouts the lot, spies her recruit, Calls out: “Fair as the moon, clear As the sun, terrible as an army’s Bright banners, saith Solomon!” Bent to her work, the girl rises: Half-smile, mock salute.
Shelley Shaver was raised in West Texas and currently lives in Northern California. Her work has appeared previously in The Los Angeles Review of Books and The Seattle Star. You can see more of her work at dustbowlstory.wordpress.com and shelleyshaver.blogspot.com.