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[Essay] Working Retail. Drunk.

Updated: Nov 1, 2022

by Dian Sousa

Rivers and streams pass by, the sea passes and remains.

This is how we must love it, faithful and fleeting. I wed the sea.

—Albert Camus

I am too old to work retail but it’s the only job I can get where they might not notice

right away that I am drunk. I drink fermented morning blackberries muddled with a

tuning fork so I can smile, so I can sound melodic when I ask if the customer would

like a bag, even though what I really want to ask is if they dream in color, or in terror.

Or if the credit card they are using was issued by the bank of the abyss.

I am too old to work retail but the cap came off my bottom tooth and my country does

not like me, let alone care about my dental health, even though it takes out ads in the

AARP Magazine—which I don’t remember subscribing to—telling me to fix my teeth

or die. I will die. Even if I get a new tooth. (They never mention this part.) But my country

calls my point of view pessimistic, and I do still have a flea’s breath of vanity left so I agree

to work in a store down by the ocean selling fuzzy mermaid beer cozies and endangered pelican coasters to boiling inland tourists who hate me because I was born by the sea—have lived my entire drunk life giving my sloppy body to the sea. Wildly. In love. Unrequited.

I do not tell the tourists any of this but they seem to be able to smell it on me. I say, smell, because they never really look at me. I think it’s because I am old and working retail and they know why. But they bury it deep. Or leave it in the trunk of their car. All the time.

Even so, sometimes when I drink too many fermented blackberries before my morning shift, I think, What a muddled wonder I am with my dark brambled breath, and the cresting fog of my hair. In those rare, splendid seconds I do have to ask myself, Am I my own planet? If I am, why am I working retail? I answer but I never believe myself because I am drunk.

I am too old to work retail and I know it will destroy me quicker than my missing tooth. But the ocean suggests I drink more and stop worrying. She will devour me first. I know this because I love the ocean every day. Unrequited. And she tells me how small I am. How fragile. How she will break my teeth and bones to bits like ocean glass. Only not as pretty. Not as moon-tinged. But there are days when I am not working retail, so I am not quite as drunk or maybe I’m drunker and I answer the ocean. Quietly but optimistically.

Maybe someday someone walking along the shore will find a few of the bits that used to be me. If I’m lucky maybe they’ll even find enough of me, say a fleck of expensive enamel or a spiral of ear bone. They will put the old bits of me in a fancy baggy, take me home, and lay me on their dresser. And on the swirling blue shore of night, if they are inebriated and dreamy (and I hope they are) they will hear that drunken wisp of ocean, that indelible souvenir which has always been my song. And they will wake up besot. Stewed. Singing.

Dian Sousa is a poet and activist. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals; most recently including The Prairie Schooner, The Banyan Review, Great Weather for Media, American Poetry Journal, The Gavea-Brown Journal of Portuguese American Poetry, and Margins/Margens: A Teaching Anthology of Portuguese Migrant and Ethnic Literature in North America. She has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes. She is the recipient of a Fellowship to the DISQUIET Literary Program in Lisbon, Portugal. She’s the author of four books of poetry. She lives and surfs in Los Osos, California.


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