artwork for Peter Krumbach's poem Nightshift in Produce

Nightshift in Produce
Peter Krumbach

Big Sal tells me again how he loathes
not only the way I stack, but the way
I shelve. His words have a rhythm.
They become a 5-mile-long train.
I nod in triple time, then cut myself
adrift, entering a space with no verbs,
a field where the past, present and future
exist at once. I see my father smoking
while eating soup, my mother
standing before him in her underwear,
holding shears, the kitchen floor
Aegean green. I can hear mockingbirds
and distant shrieks of children. It is
a realm where some great secret is to be
divulged, the gate to what’s been sought
but never found briefly ajar. But then
Big Sal points at spinach, and I pray to see
what the eye discovers when it shuts,
when electricity sends the mind around
the track without harness, the jockey
asleep in his crib. I need to tell Big Sal
that my soul is out back, playing chess
against the loading dock crew, that
his soul is marked down, bottom
shelf, aisle 8. But he’s busy, talking
about kumquats, and above me,
like a giant cotton bloom, a parachute
unfurls. I touch down, as I often do,
by the pyramid of melons, the spot
where someone dropped a brain
and stepped in it. The spot Big Sal
wants me to orange-cone and mop.

Peter Krumbach’s Comments

“Nightshift in Produce” was originally published in The Manhattan Review. When you wake up in the middle of the night and decide to go grocery shopping, pay attention to the store crew. Just understand that if you ask the quiet, hard-working produce stocker too many questions about papayas, he might kick your ass.

Table of Contents

Frigg: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 60 | Fall/Winter 2022