Michael Lauchlan

Winter Groceries

Society at Table by Aristarkh Lentulov

When you hear
a stranger call to you
it’s so late and so cold
you figure hell you have time
to get her to a bus but
when you see all her bags
stacked in a slow moving cart
you know you’ll feel lousy just
dropping her off. Anyway,
her home’s not far and roads
will be clear so you fill up
the trunk the backseat
and help her slip the seatbelt
past her coat into the latch.
She lets you. Silent.

But when you turn
toward the freeway, she objects.
You can’t go that way
she says. Turn around.
Voice flat and eyes opaque.
You open your mouth to argue
then close it without a sound
and wheel across the empty lanes
as she directs you turn by turn
along side-streets and bus routes
so familiar from your life
of strange little jobs. Tonight

the railroad gates haven’t dropped
to let a freight creep past.
Tonight streetlights go misty
in the sleet. Tonight a glaze
lights the broken pavement
as your tires ease their way north
one splash at a time
in the town you’ve never left
and rarely see. It turns out
she attends the same church
you did when you went
and she went to college while
she could. She lives alone.

You pull into the unlit lot
and help her lug the bags
upstairs. I’m sick,
she says. Cancer,
she offers into the frost
as she opens her door.


About the writer:
Michael Lauchlan has contributed to many publications, including New England Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, The North American Review, Nimrod, Sugar House Review, Louisville Review, Poet Lore, Southern Poetry Review, and Poetry Ireland. His most recent collection is Trumbull Ave., from WSU Press (2015).

Image: Society at a Table by Aristarkh Lentulov (1884-1943). Oil on canvas. 55.7 x 62.9 inches. 1916. Public domain.