Photo: Travis Wise. CC-BY.

Damn it, of course here we go, once again
Forced to learn love. The checker, given no
Mask by the drugstore, asked if she’ll drop to
Three days–cuts at store, not headquarters–
Says yes quick, long ago taught lesson one: less
Beats none. Now her daughter gets no Easter
Dress, so she’ll buy her some bauble. But–
can’t make the rent? Unthinkable. And for
The unthinkable, who pays the cost, Frost
Knew: “Home is the place where, when you
Have to go there, they have to take you
In.” Grandma won’t complain, though Uncle’s
Kids crowd her three rooms–now more,
Rolled up in blankets bedtime on the floor.
The food of love–soup, pasta, beans–love
Thins: the broth, the sauce–and knows its
Long division, one fries split five ways.
Lunchtime, the checker fights the urge to lift
A ramen. In line, some take care to keep
The safe six feet. But scoffers violate the space,
Raised by no gentle dad who taught affection
Mandates mutual protection. Besides, what’s due
A stranger? When the checker says, “Just one,”
Those, rich or poor, brought up to snatch, snap
Back. The rest walk weary with a small sack to
Their car, relieved they’ve passed today’s test
Of civility, since it will remind them who they
Are. Store parking lot, pre-dawn, some wait for
Toilet paper, not for them–old man for old
Woman, old woman for neighbor who can’t
Leave home: her son’s not right. School’s
Shut, forever? Eyes glazed, some kids click
“Lessons,” then click games all day. Others,
Sat down by their parents at the table, learn
They mean it: Read. Write. For love is a stern
Taskmaster. The mother who can barely read
Herself watches they day’s fear drain out from
Her daughter’s face–the girl curled up inside
A Wrinkle In Time–glad there’s a shelter for
Her child she never had. Later, a newfound
Pleasure: they go walk, sun warm on neck,
Trees overhead a pink-white blur, air’s
Clarity not yet destroyed. But–the river,
dirty–not safe for the boys to
Fish. Harder and harder to believe
In a “country” that poisons itself, where
Though you work two jobs, all doors
Stay shut. Great-Grandma kept
A photograph of Roosevelt. How had that
Felt? A stranger to him, yet he saved
Her home. Left on its own, love will
Contract to those familiar. How
Expand? Sickness, communal–but
The cure? Down at Mercy, doctors,
Nurses, janitors, and aides on their
Stoic rounds all want to help, despite
The risk. But first you have to make it
Past the desk. Painkillers, cough
Syrup, whiskey, cheap brands,
The checker rings up at the drugstore
Register, shifting feet from right
To left as hours pass. Eyeing
The Easter sale display, a little girl
Picks out a crown with bunny ears.
Her mother starts to say yes, then
Says no. The girl sees the look
She often sees these days, and
Makes no fuss. The line grows
Longer, slower. The checker
Rubs her nose. Always, late
Afternoons, a silence
Falls. She hands each
Customer a coupon and
Receipt. She says,
“Stay well.” She prays
For her three days.

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