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THE K-MART IN WEST ORANGE
by David Tucker

I walked into the K-mart in West Orange, New Jersey
to waste some time, avoiding my work at the paper,
letting lunch hour go another hour on a Friday afternoon,
and found the place almost empty, slow as weather,
a museum of itself. Three or four customers
wandered the aisles unhurried considering
the ninety-nine dollar suits and the death of god
or lifting the arms of fall jackets hung in rows
of moody browns and blues, thinking
what good is the death penalty. Clerks read newspapers
and talked in a listless hum, offering solutions
to the gas crisis while leaning across counters,
bright shirts labeled Clearance, whispered
when I walked through them, the jewelry bins
shined in late afternoon sun, calling there is still
time to buy something that will change your life.
At the concession stand a ragged customer
in a dirt-shined suit chewed on a chocolate donut
and sipped black coffee, looking past the parking lot,
carefully considering his choice for secretary of state.
A few more shoppers were getting out of their cars,
a child straggled along from a hand
And the heavy grandmother who ran that little
dining section stared at a wheel of hotdogs
that turned under yellow baking light sweating
beads of fat and Elvis sang his heart out
on the muzak spool to the people in the hour
that seemed it might never end.

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)
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(Photo of David Tucker in the newsroom of the Newark Star-Ledger byKeith Meyers for the New York Times, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Read an article about the author at nytimes.com.)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Journalist and poet David Tucker grew up in Tennessee. He earned a BA at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, where he studied with poet Donald Hall. Booklist critic Donna Seamanhas described his poems as “deceptive in their sturdy plainness . . . inlaid with patterns as elegant as the swoop of swallows, and images as startling and right as a cat’s bowl of milk shimmering as its ‘moon god.’” His debut collection, Late for Work (2006), was awarded the Katharine Bakeless Nason Prize by judge Philip LevineDonald Hall, a former US poet laureate, appointed Tucker a Witter Bynner Foundation Fellow in 2007. A newspaper editor for more than 25 years, Tucker is an editor for the Metro section of the Newark Star-Ledger newspaper, where he was part of the team that won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Reporting. (Source: poetryfoundation.org)