i am still waiting in line
by Richard Vargas

only one employee is manning
a checkout-station as the rest
are closed off maybe for good

white haired, five feet tall at the most
stocky and wearing glasses thick
as the bottom of a coke bottle
the blue vest hanging over
her slumped shoulders
she could be someone’s great-grandma
trying to stay afloat paying
property taxes on the farm
medical bills her dead husband
left behind or maybe she
likes the job because
it keeps her on her toes
and out of that dreaded
assisted-living facility
her kids bring up every
time they come to visit

here she gets to meet people
who would normally ignore her
but now are at her mercy
as she picks up one item
handles it with care turning
it over in her liver-spotted
hands looking for the universal
product code so she can scan and bag
she finds it soon enough
on her time, not ours
then goes on to the next item
the person she is checking out
has a shopping cart piled
high and i’ve run out of
tabloid headlines and lifestyle
magazine covers to entertain myself
i’m not going anywhere soon
there are two other customers
ahead of me and no one says
a thing or mutters a complaint
our minutes become molasses
dripping down a wall but worth
being a witness to the marvel
of her persistence

i am still waiting while
at the far end of the row
of vacant conveyor belts
and silent cash registers
the self-checkout is packed

people in a hurry
their time is so priceless
they rush to give it away

PAINTING: Per Capita by Jean-Michel Basquiat (1981).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I like to think Mr. Ferlinghetti would agree my poem is about capitalism’s wet dream: consumers conditioned to pay for the privilege of doing the work themselves, and considering it a convenience.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Richard Vargas earned his B.A. at Cal State University, Long Beach, where he studied under Gerald Locklin and Richard Lee. He edited/published five issues of The Tequila Review, 1978-1980, and twelve issues of The Mas Tequila Review from 2010-2015. Vargas received his MFA in Creative Writing from the University of New Mexico, 2010. He was recipient of the 2011 Taos Summer Writers’ Conference Hispanic Writer Award. He was on the faculties of the 2012 10th National Latino Writers Conference and the 2015 Taos Summer Writers’ Conference. Published collections: McLife, 2005; American Jesus, 2009; Guernica, revisited, 2014. He currently resides in Wisconsin, near the lake where Otis Redding’s plane crashed.