The man in line at the grocery store in Centralia, Missouri

by | May 20, 2015 | Poetry

has a face like a confession.

It says, I have come here to buy cheap bread
and milk for this herd of children
you see crammed into my cart.

It says, I am happy to have these children
whose dirty faces and empty bellies
give my life a kind of worth.

It says, My patience is not
what it used to be, but I try.

It says, I broke a promise once,
a clean bright golden nugget
of a promise, and instead
of two neat half-promises that might
someday reunite,
this promise crumbled into
a fine and wispy dust.

It says, It gets pretty windy here
in the flatter parts of Missouri.

It says, Yes, there was a woman, once—
now darkens, says, Of this, I will say no more.

It says, I am astonished at the joy
I find through my children,
but a man’s heart, full as it might be,
can still dream the hobo’s dream
of rails and railcars, or of a tiny
homestead and fealty to none
but its own shifting jurisdiction.

It says, Such a heart can still dream
itself a dirt path that winds down
and further down to the cold river
where fleshpeople can go and make
acquaintance with the ghosts.

But, it says, we must always remember—
the ghosts themselves must be willing.


Photo: My Supermarket Nightmare by Paul Townsend

About The Author

Justin Hamm

Justin Hamm is the author of a full-length collection of poems, Lessons in Ruin, and two poetry chapbooks. His work has appeared in Nimrod, The Midwest Quarterly, Cream City Review, Sugar House Review, and elsewhere. Recent work also been selected for New Poetry From the Midwest and The Stanley Hanks Memorial Poetry Award from the St. Louis Poetry Center.