Four Poems|Paul Tanner

welcome to the Chrysomelidae family


wanna bag? I ask.

no, he says.


so I scan his stuff up and tell him the price

and he taps his card against the machine

and there’s the beep and the receipt comes chugging out


and then he goes

oh actually, I will have a bag, yeah.

so I say, ok, it’s 5p.

he says fine

and puts his card to the machine again

and I say no, we have a one pound minimum spend

on card transactions

and he’s like





and I say yeah.


when I get home I’ll have to google some interesting facts again.

nothing concerning the bean weevil, though.

last night I randomly looked up the bean weevil

and found out they often live in a single seed most of their lives.

I got an ominous wave in my gut and wondered if I already knew that.

had to ask myself how random that google search really was.


anyway: see you tomorrow, I said to him

as he was shuffling out with his arms full of groceries

and he turned to me

and he said yeah.




the how


the customer’s on the phone

ripping you a new one

because you’re the only one on the shop floor

and you can’t leave the counter

to go check if you have any

of her favourite yoghurt left,

and you’re telling her


but she’s saying it’s not good enough

and now a queue has formed at the counter

and since you’re the only one on the shop floor

you hang up on her

and start serving the queue

while they have a go at you

for keeping them waiting,

and you have to tell them


as you scan and pack their shit

but they say it’s not good enough

and later the manager says

he’s had all these complaints

and you try not to say


for once,

you try reasoning with him

that maybe if he got more staff

or at least came out of the office

once in a while

then maybe this wouldn’t happen

to wit he tells you

maybe he could

if he didn’t have to do so much damage control with customer services

because of you.

makes sense, dunnit?

so you say


but guess what?

it’s not good enough


it’s never good enough

for any of them


and if you do


that thing

you’re thinking of doing


they’ll say it was because of all those video games you play

they’ll say it was because of the porn you watch

they’ll say it was because of that music you listen to

they’ll say it was because of Trump or Corbyn or the colour of the sky

they’ll say is shows how ungrateful spoilt brats like you are

in this overgenerous, class-conscious society

and finally they’ll say maybe the problem was just


after all, he was never good enough, was he?


and if they bother to gather around your barcode tombstone

and shut up long enough,

maybe they’ll hear you down there

apologising from the ground

before they muffle you

with their black wreaths

that lament





yesterday some

mangy old sod who wanted a refund on the yoghurt he’d eaten

accused me of patronising him for calling him “sir”.

I was actually relieved to hear this. I hardly ever get to be blunt.

who does these days?

so I said ok, well, cards on the table, then:

I’m not pumping the yoghurt out of your stomach

to check it’s quality of taste, so get out me face.

then he threw a wobbler re: respect.

christ. all the men

with tiny dicks

lining up

to accuse shop workers

of picking on them,

and the moon is so indifferent,

so unpolitical

and never has to squeeze it’s spots

or check it’s going the right way down a one-way street.

it’s not fair.

and customers as regular as shit


on the days

until the moon takes over

the rooftops

to watch and pretend it’s not watching


because we’re open late.





plumbing that depth


the work shitter is clogged.


you have to use the public ones

for customers.

it’s at the other end

of the shopping centre.


so you gotta queue up with the customers –

like you don’t take enough of their guff,

now you have to inhale their gasses,

basically literally eating their shit

while they pester you:

what shop you work in? they ask you

as you stand with them

full bladder to full bladder.

you got a sale on? why not?

don’t you have your own toilet? these are for customers!

tell your manager you should open later …


and afterwards you’re powerwalking

through the shopping centre

back to your shop

because you just know

the boss is rehearsing some speech

about how long you’ve taken,

when some old guy

blocks your path,

thrusting flyers at you.


I work here, you tell him,

pointing at your name badge.


so do I! he says. like it makes sense.

tries to put a wad of flyers in your hand again.


no, look, you back off. I don’t have me wallet on me.

and I don’t have time to shop anyway. I’m at work.

I can’t take flyers from another shop into mine;

the boss’ll bollock me, you know?


fuck, he says. real flat, like.

but then, he still thrusts them flyers at you,

trying to poke them into your closed fist.


you don’t have time for this.

you walk around him.

just another worker

as broken as the work shitters

of this work shitter of a land.


you finally get back to your shop

and lo and behold: there’s your boss:

tapping his fake Rolex, and

see them caterpillar eyebrows of furry fury

in a triangle?

aye, he’s got his speech ready alright.

he’s just dying to give it

and you’re just dying to hear it.

so you’re both dying


and the snarl rises up your throat

inch by inch

like the piss

in the broken work shitters

of this broken work shitter of a land.


Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash


Been earning minimum wage, and writing about, for too long. Novel ‘Jobseeker’ doing alright on Amazon. Was shortlisted for the Erbacce 2020 Poetry Prize. Latest collection “Shop Talk: Poems for Shop Workers” is published by Penniless Press.



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