A Walmart in Connecticut

A Walmart in Connecticut
Dear Allen Ginsberg, I invoke you now,
the sandal-footed, supermarket bard.
We thought of you the other night, by chance,
though California wasn’t where we were.
My friend and I—Michael is his name—
went looking for a Walmart Tuesday night
before a poetry conference we’d attend
in Madison, Connecticut. The time was ten o’clock.
We knew, back home, Manhattan and the Bronx
would still be grinding on, so we assumed
that people here might work a late shift too.

But Madison was like another world
—the Sound, the pleasure craft, the cormorants.
A toothbrush Michael didn’t bring with him
was on his list, and I would need shampoo
despite the fact I have so little hair.
Because McDonald’s had already closed,
Michael thought to buy a bowl and soup
to heat up in that smallish microwave
back at what was called The Comfort Inn.

Oh, and I would buy some plastic cups
for wine we’d drink tomorrow night
with literati at Poetry by the Sea.
We drove down Highway 1, and there it was,
the very Walmart we’d been hoping for,
the lit-up mother of all mother ships,
but at that hour customers were few.

It seemed we might have been the only ones.
No husbands filled the aisles, no wives about
in Home Appliances, no kids around
in back by the BB guns and bicycles.
We did not see you either, Mr. Ginsberg,
poking among the meats. The grocery boys
were nowhere to be seen.

We were alone,
two 24-7 aliens from New York
among a hundred and twenty thousand things,
from cantaloupes to ratchet crimping tools;
aisles of cheap shirts made in Salvador;
a spud wrench, if we needed one, was there;
and avocados, yes, and artichokes;
a wall of giant Samsung smart TVs;
a rack with Willie Nelson’s Greatest Hits
and Conway Twitty and Metallica;
a Weber Jumbo Premium Charcoal Grill;
and ten to fifteen yards of Cheerios
in sixteen flavors, maybe even more:
Nut Medley Crunch and Apple Cinnamon,
Original Honey Nut, Banana Nut,
Protein Cinnamon Almond, Multi Grain,
and Oats & Honey, just to name a few.
A tire-pressure gauge (they came in pairs)
would set us back ten dollars on the nose.

It felt a bit like being in a church
when Mass was done, the congregation gone,
the priests and altar boys no longer there,
but all the lights still on, the images
disinterestedly offering themselves
to guide the mind . . . or here, to loosen it,
that shoppers might then buy in quantity.

So on we went, down separate aisles. In Pharmacy
I found a plastic bottle of shampoo,
a fortifying brand called “Damage Not”
with eight essential vitamins for hair
that was distressed. And next, the plastic cups.
Oh look! There went Michael passing by,
ceramic bowl in hand with king-size cans
of Chunky Soup, off down another aisle,
and on I went to get my cups. And then . . .
“What the hell do you think you’re doing here!”

I turned to face a man, Security,
the kind that you, dear Allen, never saw.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing here!”
The sense of urgency was palpable.
“I’m sorry,” I replied. “The lights were on,
the doors were open, so we just assumed . . .
but that’s OK, no worries. We can leave.”
He stiffened then as Michael reappeared
far down the aisle with products in his arms.
“Is he with you?” he yelled. “Is he with you!”
“Yes, he’s with me,” I reassured the guard,
and he unclenched a bit. “This Walmart’s closed,”
he said. “The registers are shut. You can’t
make any purchases. Get out of here.”

What would you have done, Allen Ginsberg?
Michael said we’d put the items back
and leave, and that’s exactly what we did.
We headed, empty-handed, for the doors.
No toothbrush, bowl, shampoo or cans of soup.
No plastic cups. No cornucopia.

Still hungry and fatigued, and now ashamed,
unwitting criminals, we took our leave
and drove to Guilford, two miles further south.
A food-mart at a local Shell was where
a toothbrush could be found, and then—hurray!—
an open Wendy’s drive-thru down the road.
For me, a burger, medium, with fries,
and Michael settled on the “Baconator” meal.
We took these nutriments back to The Comfort Inn
and washed them down with cheap Chilean wine.

Tomorrow we would be in Conference Land
on panels, at receptions, a bit drunk,
but still we’d take some time along the beach
and try to find the words, the deadliest,
to talk about the flight of cormorants,
a value in the line, and nothing more.
Dear Allen, what would you have had to say?
You spoke with vatic spontaneity
about the “lost America of love,”
but no one falls for that stuff anymore.