Carolyn Martin 1962
Taking stock
(Perth Amboy, NJ, 1962)
by Carolyn Martin

A feel for finery? I mastered it at seventeen
in Stein’s Boutique unwrapping taffeta, silk shantung
and lacy overlays, racking them along the aisles
where salesgirls worked their pitch
and matrons needed hours of pampering.

Mrs. Sixteen-Plus? Curvaceous in the satin twill.
Mrs. Husband-Cheats? Blossoms in the floral print.
Mrs. Mousy-Hair? Floats in beige chiffon
to cocktails at the Rotary, dances at the Elks.

Conspiracy of words or well-placed compliments?
I wasn’t sure. When Mr. Stein, master
of the fashion scene, perused from top
to toe and grinned, Exquisite taste!
Perfect style! blushing faces beamed.

But what’s true? I asked myself — scavenging
through dressing rooms for lipstick stains,
armpit smells, seams that stretched.

I’d gather up the garments left behind —
assuring them some day they’d host a swank event —
while salesgirls rang up hard-wrought sales
and Mrs. So-and-So strutted out
the dress shop door indulged, convinced.

SOURCE: Previously published in Star 82 Review.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: The stock girl gets ready to graduate from St. Mary’s High School, Perth Amboy, New Jersey, in 1963. She hasn’t written one line of poetry yet.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: As a shy teenager, I worked for two years as a stock girl in a women’s dress shop — Friday nights and Saturdays at $1.00 an hour. The saleswomen were much older and well-versed in the art of fashion and flattery.  Sometimes I felt they talked women into buying dresses that weren’t quite that smart or appropriate — or, at least, that was how my untrained eye interpreted it. In any event, they were very kind and even allowed me to handle a customer or two.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: From English teacher to management trainer to retiree, Carolyn Martin has journeyed from New Jersey to Oregon to discover Douglas firs, months of rain, and perfect summers. Her poems and book reviews have appeared in publications throughout North America and the UK, and her third poetry collection, Thin Places, is slated for release by Aldrich Press in Fall 2017.