First Job—J.C. Penneys
by Joan Colby

Sherry, Joanne, Donna and Sandy
Below in the heart of commerce peddling
Perfumes and underwear. Directing ladies
To dressing rooms. Finding the right size
Of flannel shirt for an old rancher.
Stacking the Pendleton blankets that the
Indians come in for. Whirling the cash and
Sales slips up to me in my locked chamber
Where I sit like Rapunzel bereft
Of company, making change and impaling
Those slips on a prong, then sending
The remainder down in a vacuum whoosh
Like the Chinook winds that surge the weather
Fifty degrees in an hour.
There are bars on the cage I’m in,
Sequestered as a maiden in a tale
While my girlfriends gossip and steal
Lipsticks and eye shadow. End of the shift, I’m
Freed to get in on the plans for the evening
Which mostly involve cruising Broadway
To end up at the Big Boy Burger
Or on the rimrocks making out
Above the lights of the glittering city.
They think you’re smart and can be trusted
Sherry envies the five cents more per hour
I earn for being jailed and lonesome. No wonder
Duane can induce me to the roadhouse where
We drink whiskey and dance to a cowboy band
With our hands stamped purple.

SOURCE: First published in Homestead Review.

PHOTO: The author, around the time of her first job.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Joan Colby has published widely in journals such as Poetry, Atlanta Review, South Dakota Review, Gargoyle, Pinyon, Little Patuxent Review, Spillway, Midwestern Gothic, and others. Awards include two Illinois Arts Council Literary Awards and an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Literature. She has published 17 books including Selected Poems from FutureCycle Press which received the 2013 FutureCycle Prize and Ribcage from Glass Lyre Press which has been awarded the 2015 Kithara Book Prize. Three of her poems have been featured on Verse Daily and another is among the winners of the 2016 Atlanta Review International Poetry Contest. Her newest book, Carnival, was published by FutureCycle Press in 2016. She has another forthcoming from Kelsay Press in 2017 titled The Seven Heavenly Virtues. She is a senior editor of FutureCycle Press and an associate editor of Kentucky Review. Visit her at or on Facebook or Twitter.