Front Door
Hardware, April 2020
by Robert Strickland

Looking for the automatic door, I see it is not there.
I am obliged to touch the handle where it says
“PUSH.” I push with my elbow awkwardly, then walk
the aisles trying to resist the urge to scratch my nose
to relieve the torturous tickle from the blue gingham
cloth stretched across my nose and mouth.
Looking like a fashionably masked spring
bank robber, I survey shelves, scan products,
pass by adhesives, acids, brooms, bow saws,
ball-peen hammers. I need to know details!
I try to read without touching containers;
should I turn them to read the back labels
where the important information is listed? What if
I don’t purchase it? Is it fair to the next customer?
I’m not sure, and pondering the ethics involved,
I steal a look over each shoulder to see if anyone is looking,
then turn a few containers. I finally choose. At the checkout line,
the floor is taped off in 6 foot red squares, the sign reading,
“Please maintain social distancing.” The clerk
stands behind clear plexiglass hung from the ceiling.
A temporary barrier made of stacked five-gallon pails
of joint compound separates me from her
at the required distance. On one of the pails
is a small credit card reader. She mumbles something
behind her mask. “Excuse me?” She repeats impatiently,
“Press the green button.” I am nervous. People
have been pressing that green button all day. Who knows
where they’ve been? Maybe they are asymptomatic.
Maybe they just don’t give a damn. I press the button hard.
She pushes the receipt under the Plexiglas.
Should I take it? I weigh the risk, then turn to leave.
In my path stands a man less than six feet away. I stop.
He looks at me. I can’t walk around; others are there
and I would have to enter their space. I stare him down,
neither of us speaking through our masks. Finally
I reverse direction and make a big loop back through aisles
to go around him, maintaining my distance. There
is that manual door again! I curse. Returning home,
I remove my shoes outside the door, slip on sandals,
and grab disinfectant, wiping the steering wheel, gear shift,
door latches, keys, then the container of silicone caulk I bought.
I wash my hands, already red and rough from the other fifteen
washings over the last twenty hours or so. Should I change clothes
before sitting down? Screw it. I grab a beer and walk John Wayne-like
to the back porch, the perils of battle having hardened me
into throwing caution to the wind.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I wrote this poem to try and convey not only the inconvenience of trying to procure needed household items during the current pandemic, but also the strange feelings and conflicts, both inner and outer, that the fear related to the virus produces.  I tried to do this in a more light-handed manner.

Bob Photo Fedora

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Robert Strickland is a poet and musician living in Florida with his wife Dena, dog Miles, and cat Petunia. His writing has appeared in a number of journals, including Burning Word, Pirene’s Fountain, Sheila-Na-Gig, Poetry Breakfast, and Houseboat.