Four Poems|Paul Tanner

pesky logic


I serve her.


then I use the hand sanitizer.


she watches me rubbing my hands together.

I’m clean, you know! she says.


I have to do it after every customer, I tell her.


oh, charming! well what about YOU, eh?

she points at me from across the counter.

what about YOU?

you’re more likely

to be carrying something,

working in a shop!


yeah, I say. exactly.

hence me

sanitizing my hands.


but this kind of


is obviously pesky

to her offended agenda

and she struts out of the shop,

her head still somehow held high.


I wonder what that’s like


but they don’t pay me

to hold my head


ah, them old paradoxical chestnuts


he comes up to the counter

and puts a DVD down on it.

this is probably a stupid question, he says,

but do you think I’ve already seen this show?


and the calculations start whizzing through

your mind’s eye:


option 1: no sir, you haven’t.

him: yes I have! you’re just tryna get me to spend money!


option 2: yes sir, you have.

him: no I haven’t! you’ve missed a trick there! I was gonna spend money,

which pays your wage, you know! don’t you want my money?


option 3: probably, sir? it’s PROBABLY a stupid question?

jesus christ, how the bloody fuck would I know, you co-dependent man-child?

him: you can’t talk to me like that!

just cos you’re bitter about working in a shop!

I’ll have you know I’ve got mental issues

and my memory’s funny, and you’re being prejudicial to me,

just cos you hate your job, just cos you just work in a shop!


option 4:

you uppercut him

and he falls

and his head hits the shop floor

and his skulls cracks

and the bone shards stab his brain

and society is spared

one more lonely middle-aged man


option 5:

let him uppercut you

and slip into sweet dark silence …


you’re running all these variables

through your head

desperately scrambling

for a way to get out of this

without having an argument,


when he waves the DVD in your face:




and you think:

why am I here?

he could have this argument

with a mannequin.

he could have this argument

with his reflection.

he could have this argument

all on his own …


but then he surprises you:

he demands

to speak to

someone in charge

about you:


he clearly believes

you’re necessary,

even if you don’t,



a most modern narcissism


but I HAVE to refund her,

don’t I see,

the toy was for her kid,

but it was the wrong toy,

and now her kid is upset,

and it’s her kid’s birthday,

and now her kid’s birthday is ruined,




I don’t.

this isn’t Facebook.

I don’t give thumbs up

to random strangers’ offspring

for no reason.

especially when their bitch mothers

are giving me shit.

this is the real physical world.

she’s in a shop

and I’m a shop worker:

I’m here to scan and stack shit,

not emotionally validate them.

it would be weird

for me to form an any kind of opinion

positive or negative

to a child I don’t know


but you know what,

since she’s teaching her kid

to shame shopworkers

for not having the power

to rectify HER mistakes as a mother,

now I DO have an opinion:

I’d hazard a guess

that I probably DON’T like her kid

or what it will become.

in fact, I reckon

I might despise the cursed little shit

half as much as I do

the bitch what spawned it


… in my hungover state

I hear myself telling her all this

out loud …


then she’s yelling for the manager,

yelling for anyone

to come and save her,

save her from me

and my evil words


for in my hungover state

I did the worst thing I could have done:

I gave her what she wanted:

an opinion to disagree with


for Facebook is offline now too

and in my hungover state

I must know:

how do I block her? literally,

here and now

in this shop

how do I

LITERALLY block her?


she winds her elbow back …




it was just you

and the deputy manager.


you were putting the delivery out

when he saw something outside.


he stopped

put his box down

and went over to the window …


his eyes widened,

he made a



moan …


then turned

and ran off the shop floor …


hey! you called after him. where you going?


you heard the manager’s

office door slam.



this big shithouse of a bloke

comes storming into the shop.


walking down aisle 2

with his long meaty arm out,

knocking all the condiments off the shelves,

smashing them onto the floor,

persh! spish! bash!


and when he gets to the end

he spins around

like a Fantasia hippo

and marches back down the aisle,

knocking all the stuff off

on the other side:


his spade of a hand

sending more stuff onto the floor:

persh! spish! bash!

then marches back out …


you stand there




the lock to the manager’s office

does a click


and the deputy comes back onto the shop floor.


oh, what the hell? he says

with a surprised look on his face.

what’s all this mess?

as he crunches his way down

the carpet of sloppy shards in aisle 2.

what happened?


he made manager the following year,

you know, when the original manager

had that stroke?


Photo by Thula Na on Unsplash



Paul Tanner has been earning minimum wage, and writing about it, for too long. He was shortlisted for the Erbacce 2020 Poetry Prize. “Shop Talk: Poems for Shop Workers” was published last year by Penniless Press. “No Refunds: Poems and cartoons from your local supermarket” is out now, from Alien Buddha Press.

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