Shelley Shaver

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  and