Why Pay More?
Generic cashews, for a casserole,
from the Giant Eagle in Morgantown,
West Virginia, where I'm in graduate school,
studying under some Columbia
University castoffs and a dolt
for a freshman writing director from
New Jersey. And a couple of young guns
from Maryland, next door. I'm earning all
of $405.00 a month
and my wife hates it here. She's banished me
to this aisle; I've been in her way, bothered
her because she's very sexy when she's
holding a grocery list in one hand and
a pen in the other and just standing
there, her eyes wandering over the shelves,
first at the product--cereals, perhaps,
or canned fruit, or flour, baking soda, yeast
--and then down to the prices. Watch her wince
like she does when I accidentally
fart, or intentionally, or when news
at six on the television is bad,
or I tell a lame joke, too often with
a stupid pun. But when the price is right
then she is, too, and that old smile returns
--how she used to smile when we were dating
and I was talking her up. So halfway
between the Betty Crocker frosting and
the packages of cut-rate brownie mix
I sneak up behind her and slip my arms
around her waist--remember, her hands are
full of paper, ink, and instrument--and
squeeze her like the Charmin (which we don't buy
--too expensive). Man, is she ticked off, whirls
around and almost screams, Goddammit, Gale,
quit pulling on me. Make yourself useful
--go buy some napkins. The sanitary
kind, I ask. Ha ha. I prefer tampons,
you know. Yuk yuk. You're making me fucking
angry, she says. Go. Just go. Go away.
Well, I'm hurt: if you can't find affection
in aisle 7 of the supermarket,
where the hell else will you? I hit the tile
--it's linoleum, I think--and that's how
I wound up here, in aisle twenty-one. Nuts.
Jiffy Pop, Jiffy Pop, the magic treat,
as much fun to make as it is to eat.
Candy bars, pork rinds, cheese puffs, snack mixes,
chips in cardboard tubes like tennis-ball cans.
Beef jerky, bean dip, animal crackers
--cookies, really. Why are they called crackers?
The sign overhead demands Why Pay More?
That must be a rhetorical question.
So I grab the discount cashews and some
boiled peanuts in a can and return
to my wife and hold the items up for
her inspection. Like tribute. My Queen,
I say. These spoils of bounty are tokens
of my admiration for your beauty.
You're so weird, she says. Put them in the cart.
Thank you. Now get out of my way. I want
to kiss her, and lean over the headless
naked frozen chicken in the cart but
she's scratching through some items on her list.
Why don't you just wait in the truck, she says.
You're driving me fucking crazy in here.
Awright, I say. So I have a cigaret
--generic, of course--while I sprawl across
the hood and soon I hear wheels squeaking near
me. Swing low, sweet chariot. Then she bumps
the front of the cart into the pickup
and says, Wake up, Rip Van Wiener. I'm up,
I say. I'll put these away for you. I do,
like placing children in a back seat.
How's that, I say. I'm smiling. I'm trying
to save this marriage but it's too late, we
don't love each other anymore or if
we do we don't know it. What's for dinner,
I ask, and turn the ignition. Chicken,
she says. And potatoes. And Veg-All. She's
studying that list again. And brownies.
You're the best cook in the whole wide world
and universe, I say. I lean over
again for a kiss. I get it but it's
generic and what have we saved? Let's go,
she says. I want to watch Three's Company.
Right, I say, and depress the clutch and shift
into first and we're rolling again, black
beneath us and blue above and stray carts
like lost sheep all around. I weave around
them. Out the exit. Turn left. Damn, that was
close. When we pull up to the curb she says,
I think I'm going to be sick. I can't
open my door. I don't want to go in. But
this is our home, I say. This is where we
live. No, we don't, she says, and I get her
meaning. Well, we can't just sit out here all day,
I say. The ice milk's melting. She's crying
now. C'mon, Barbie, I say. Let's go in.
Let's have supper and watch television
and then play cards or listen to some tunes.
C'mon, now. You can do this. We'll open
our doors at the same time. You go on up,
I say. I'll tote the bags. Okay, she says.
Right then she loves me again, or it's close.
I set the sacks on the kitchen table
and put the things away--usually
she doesn't let me do that. I find her
on her side of the bed. I lie beside
and join in staring at the ceiling-- white,
like the grocery list. We forgot sugar.
© 2007 Gale Acuff
About the Poet:
Gale Acuff's work has appeared in
Ascent, Descant, Ohio Journal, Maryland Poetry Review, South Carolina Review, Santa Barbara Review,
South Dakota Review, Poem, Worcester Review, G.W. Review, Slipstream, Willow Review, Aethlon,
Pikeville Review, Carolina Quarterly, Florida Review, and many other journals. His book of poems,
Buffalo Nickel, was published in 2004 by BrickHouse Press, which is now publishing his second,
The Weight of the World. He has taught in university English departments in the US,
People's Republic of China, and the Palestinian West Bank.