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With a vacant look on her too-tired face,

a woman sweeps cigarette butts and cellophane wrappers

into a dust pan, the tips of her yellow hair

swinging back and forth

 

across a crooked name tag.  She is cleaning the filthy

sidewalk in front of a 7-Eleven, a basketball-

size pregnancy bursting the seams

of her pink sweatshirt.  Under the harsh glare

 

of florescent parking lot lights that switched on promptly

at dusk, she looks older than she probably is, her skin

picking up gray tones

from the trash cans nobody bothers to use,

 

and the gunmetal frame on a cage packed with propane

tanks.  Every now and then, the corners of her mouth

turn up so you can see how she might

have looked holding

 

a glass of lime punch instead of a broom

handle, surrounded by baby gifts and giggling girlfriends

instead of drunks, deadbeats and drifters,

with nothing left to give.

    


Terri Kirby Erickson is the author of three collections of poetry, including her latest book, In the Palms of Angels (Press 53, 2011), which won a 2012 Nautilus Silver Award for a book of poetry that "engenders compassion, wisdom, greater understanding, empathy or passion through the artful use of language."  Former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser, also chose a poem from this collection to feature in his "American Life in Poetry" column in 2013.  Her work has won many other awards and has appeared or is forthcoming in the 2013 Poet's Market, storySouth, The Christian Science Monitor, JAMA, North Carolina Literary Review, Verse Daily and numerous other publications.  She lives in North Carolina.


"7-Eleven" was inspired by a young woman I saw one evening, who looked like she was ready to give birth any second and was sweeping the sidewalk at the convenience store where she was employed.  As she stood there amongst the cigarette butts and detritus of a long day of convenience store business, she looked about as miserable and exhausted as any human being I've ever seen.  I remember wishing that I could whisk her away to a baby shower, instead--see her surrounded by friends and loved ones, having the time of her life.  But the best I could do was to write this tribute to her and to all the people in this country who labor so hard to support their families, particularly women who have no choice but to continue working even physically demanding on-your-feet kinds of jobs, until the last possible minute of their pregnancies.


 









 





  


Copyright 2009