By the corner liquor store, there is a crowd of men
Fresh off the train from border towns, waiting patiently as cattle
For crew runners to come by and herd them onto pick-up trucks
At the same liquor store, my grandfather would go every morning before breakfast
To pick up a paper and a six-pack, and I would go with him
Because neither of us thought there was anything odd
About a six-year-old accompanying her grandfather to the liquor store
Or going into the tavern to fetch him for dinner while Grandma waited in the car.
As a six-year-old, I know my preference was for the brightly-lit liquor store
With its candy rack, over the dim-lit environs of the tavern where men gathered
Amid cigar smoke and the click of domino tiles.
The same liquor store where we bought condoms as teenagers
And they never carded us because they knew our grandfathers.
The liquor store beside the railroad bridge,
Whose dingy underside was the entrée for so many
To the estados unidos, the adjacent alley with its discarded crates and bottles
And the piles of sleeping rags.
When my grandfather needed help fixing the back fence
We went to the liquor store and picked up a pair of men
Who had not eaten in two days. So my grandparents paid them
Mostly in food. There have been crueler places
Where promises have been made on trains and empty bellies. But here,
Freedom can taste like Wonder Bread and bologna,
Off-brand cheese puffs and RC Cola,
Because work makes free, that old lie that keeps us swinging
From empty plate to empty plate, like men
Promising to be home in time for supper or teenagers
Pretending to be of age in order to buy a fifth
Of whatever’s cheapest on the shelf.
Whatever gets the job done.
Laying tracks two thousand miles out of our motherland,
Fences and borders of our own construction
Because what’s inside looks an awful lot like greener pastures
And in the evening, the spring breeze carries the scent
Of pine off the new boards, and the men rest in its shade,
Dominoes spread on the table between them,
Sipping Coors bought from the liquor store.
[More poems by Lauren Scharhag]
[Check out Lauren’s back porch wisdom here]