Four Poems|Paul Tanner


my first shift,

they sent me out

with a shopping list:

coffee? check.

sugar? check.

butt plugs … wait, what? butt plugs?

I rolled my eyes

at their wit

and went back …


the boss and supervisor were waiting:

did you get the butt plugs? the boss asked.

I said no.

but you asked for them, the supervisor said. didn’t you?


yes you did! the boss pointed. admit it!

but I didn’t.

you went shopping for butt plugs, the supervisor said,

and you embarrassed yourself. didn’t you?

no, I didn’t.

YES YOU DID! the boss told me. JUST ADMIT IT!

fine, I said. I went shopping for butt plugs. happy now?

then they told me to put the kettle on …


why are these powerful straight men

always so angry?

maybe they were being sincere

and they’ve worn their current butt plugs

down to nubs,

I thought,

as I spat in their coffees.



constant man paradox

I swear

if one more middle-aged male customer kicks off on me for no reason

I’m going to reach over this counter

and deck him so hard his little pin-prick falls off.

middle-aged men:

do you not get that

you cannot be a tough guy and a victim

at the same time?

do you not get

that if you were really a tough guy,

you wouldn’t be so easily offended?

getting shirty with a shop worker

because they, quote “looked at you funny” or you “don’t like their tone”?

why waste all that breath and energy

demonstrating how insecure you are

when you could just put a neon sign atop your head

saying “I HAVE A TINY DICK”?

that way

I’ll see you coming and cut to the chase:

I will reach over this counter

and deck you so hard that useless little thing falls off

before you can embarrass yourself.

we’ll sweep it up after closing with so much other unwanted dust.

it’ll be banished into the car park bins forever

to degrade into a yet more anonymous dust.

no one needs to know

you ever had

that useless little thing between your legs, ok?

now then …

next, please!



I used to love Coco Pops.


but now

every time I try to eat them

I think of that stupid bitch

who let her stupid kid

rip open box after box,

empty them onto the floor

and pour like, five litres of milk

all over it

until we had this crunchy brown lake

of chocolate cereal

running down the aisle …


it sounds like heaven

but I’m the guy

who has to clean it up, ok?

and I felt like a bug

sailing in a giant’s breakfast,

wading through it all with the mop

hours after closing.

to this day

that aisle’s still sticky …


so yeah,

now I can’t eat Coco Pops without getting angry.

so I don’t.

working in retail can ruin stuff for you

like that.


I still have to put them onto the shelves, though.

and I still have to walk down that sticky aisle

a million times a shift.

and I still have to serve her

and her kid

every time they come in,

and be all please and thank you about it


when all I really want to do

is shove him

back up her

then choke the bitch

and I want the last thing she hears

over the roaring of death,

as her drowning sprog gouges

at the poisoned womb it once shat out of

to be me, lamenting





yes, working in retail can spoil stuff for you:

customers will sully

your aisles and joys


but I honestly think

the joy I’d get

from strangling them


would make it one-all.


sold off

I was in aisle 8 or 9, I forget which.

whichever aisle

had the puddle of piss in,

that’s the aisle I was in,

mopping it all up, ok?


and this bloke comes up to me

holding a can of peanuts

and he says: these any good, then?


never had them, I shrug. popular though.

that’s it? he says. that’s all you’ve got to say?

what do you want me to say? I ask him.

I want you to SELL this to me! he says.

I pay your wage, you know.

it doesn’t just come from nowhere.

it’s people like me,

spending our money here, that means YOU get paid!

so SELL it to me! go on, MAKE me buy it!


I stop mopping.

I look up at him.

I tell him: you’re standing in piss.


he looks down,


throws the can

into the piss and bleach

and marches off …


I pick up the can, shake the drops off

and put it back.

I went the warehouse,

emptied the bucket of piss and bleach

down the liquid waste grid

and went into the car park to smoke.


I didn’t feel good.


then I saw him:

he was stomping towards his car,

his wife yapping beside him

his kids running around them in circles

screaming bloody murder at each other


stomping on shoes wet with piss and bleach

that he was going to stain his car’s carpet with

as he sat at red lights

with her yapping next him,

with them fighting in the back,

the big important man

who pays my wage.


I still didn’t feel good,

but I did feel

slightly less bad.


I flicked my fag away

and went back in,

back onto the shop floor


almost ready

for the next one.

Photo by Torbjørn Helgesen on Unsplash


Tanner is barely qualified for minimum wage and he’s allergic to cheese, for god’s sake. His cat knows your sins.

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