Today on the blog, I’d like to share with you the following poem which won third place in last year’s Worcester County Poetry Association’s Frank O’Hara Poetry Contest and originally appeared in the 2020 issue of The Worcester Review (hope you enjoy it):
It Is Those Odd Little Shops I Like…
It is those odd little shops I like,
the ones you find nestled between abandoned storefronts
on side streets in down and out neighborhoods,
their signage (if any) sun-bleached to shades of pastel blue and peach,
announcing inexplicable names like Solomon’s Spa, Happy Sundries,
or Miami Bling Bling Bang Bang (although Florida’s a thousand miles
down the coast). There’s a mishmash of mismatched merchandise-
a quart can of motor oil, a latex swim cap, a toilet plunger,
a 12 oz. bottle of a foreign soft drink – haphazardly displayed
behind the large plate glass window almost opaque with grime,
an obligatory random houseplant (a gnarled jade tree or
a two-foot-high barrel cactus) apparently thriving on dust in the corner.
No customers are ever seen on the premises, so you wonder who shops here,
fantasize if its all a sham, a front for the mob to launder money,
the secret headquarters of the Illuminati or Trilateral Commission.
Someday, you think, if you have enough curiosity and courage
as you stroll by, you may stop, try the door, jiggle the handle.
If it’s not locked, you’ll enter hesitantly, survey the dim interior,
the new old stock scattered on shelves, sniff the air and detect a faint
not-quite-identifiable scent (spiced cabbage, frankincense, myrrh?),
a whiff of the old world or possibly the next. You nod to the gruff
wizened man or woman guarding the cash register, their eyes either
glaring or averted as if you weren’t even there. Snatch up a Zagnut,
a Sky Bar, a tube of medicated muscle rub and attempt a purchase.
“Not for you!”, they’ll say in an accent you do not recognize as they stash
the item beneath the counter.“Not for you!” they repeat as they wave
your money away with an arthritic hand and shoo you out the door.
You are the foreigner, the interloper here. This candy bar, this ointment,
this store, this side street, this neighborhood is not for you,
for who you cannot imagine, but definitely not meant for you or me
and that is precisely why I like these odd little shops so much.
—Paul Szlosek (originally published in The Worcester Review)