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K-MART
by Lawrence Kearney

Mother is off to LADIES WEAR,
Father to HOME FURNISHINGS.
As usual, I’m with him.
 
Passing HARDWARE, he instructs me
in the merits of variable-speed
drills, the sham of saber saws,
the parable of human folly
embodied in third-rate drop-forged
hammers. I nod. I’m twelve. He’s
teaching me to shop like a man.
 
AUTOMOTIVE; SPORTING GOODS;
a foray into COSMETICS
for deodorant & shave cream—
the lights droning overhead—
their rheumy incessant gossip,
here, in the one place we talk.
 
When it’s time to go, his lessons
lapse. He wanders off by himself,
whistling his special call for Mother:
two notes
so high & clear they rise
above the whole store—
that tired adult head, the jowls
rich with ridicule, with affection, Father
floating there like some exotic bird—
calling again & again for his unseen lover
across the abyss of goods
between them. 

Photo: Interior of a 1970s Kmart, from The Grand Emporiums: The Illustrated History of America’s Great Department Stores by Robert Hendrickson (available at Amazon.com)