In the Stop & Shop
after Marie Howe
I nudge my cart down narrow aisles
past the children of God —
past these faithful shoppers reading labels on cans, on boxes—
ingredients, calories, chemical content.
They are everywhere: bra straps exposed
on freckled shoulders, cycling shorts sagging
pajama bottoms that pass for pants.
There, an old man leans on his cart
opens a tray of eggs, lifts each one
to make sure none are broken.
These are their profound acts of care —
squeezing cucumbers for firmness
tomatoes for their yielding
the food they will feed to their families.
Here the manager stacks avocados
one by one, dreadlocks roping to his waist.
Here is Jesus, I think. He is wearing jeans
& t-shirt & running shoes,
his apron fraught with the stains
of all he’s handled this morning —
raspberries, the ears of corn
shucked & left behind.
I hold an avocado in my hand,
press its burled skin calloused & rough against my palm.
The heft of it. Having touched this fruit
I hesitate to put it back, though it’s not ready.
I want more than I have
less than I can bear.
I step on a tomato that’s fallen from the display
make a mess, seeds splayed beneath my shoe.
I haven’t eaten yet today. I miss my parents.
I cry from the blunder, from the beauty.
Review by Nancy Sobanik
This gorgeous poignant poem presents the messiness and authenticity of real people in the mundane pursuit of grocery shopping. The reader is reminded metaphorically of the abundance that can be seen, the holiness, beauty and purity of life all around us. The poem concludes with a spilling of emotion, illustrating that sorrow and joy are enmeshed and each is the better for the other.
Review by Claire Scott
I don’t know the poem by Marie Howe, but I really like what you have created. You pull us right into the store, the food, the “faithful shoppers.” The store is a church of life. Such a wonderful variety of people. I love “pajama bottoms that pass for pants.” I can see the old man, so careful not to buy a broken egg. I assume he goes home to an apartment where he lives alone. There is such gentle love for these people, like a Pissarro painting. I love the manager compared to Jesus, a real down to earth Jesus with and “apron fraught with stains.”
Then the turn with the avocado and the lovely line “I want more than I have/less than I can bear.” And the messiness of the stepped on tomato. Then the poem opens up. “I miss my parents.” The last line is so beautiful. A testimony to the heavenly madness of life. A really good poem!
Review by Mary Giudice
“The Star Market” by Marie Howe is one of my best friends that is a poem. I appreciate this nod to it! I like the ultimately loving attention to the details of these shoppers and their careful searching. It’s hard for me to buy that some random dreadlock dude “is Jesus”– I don’t really see him earn that title– but it’s okay, the produce guy is usually my favorite person at the grocery store, so maybe I do kinda get it. Ultimately, the speaker of the poem is the little bleating lamb who needs to be saved. My heart goes out to her; I know that “this is the last straw” feeling on a rough day. I enjoyed this poem a lot and will think of it next time I squeeze the ends of a cucumber.