Rose Mart, Summer 2021

by Kaleigh Johnson


The stench of chicken gizzard sweat

and crisp cockroaches beneath my feet,

hours old Folgers and the sticky sweet remains 

of the broken slushy machine.

I squat and climb and squat and climb and squat and

stack mini mountains of Modelos and Marlboro Reds —


Sometimes, men ask for cigarettes they’ll never smoke

just to see me bend over. I learn to turn sideways instead.


Then again, an open button brings in big tips.


$300 in scratch-offs, $20 profit.

Freezer-chapped lips and chemical-coated hands,

unzipped pants and muck-smothered boots.

Five packets of ketchup exactly and

Hola mami, can I get a taste?


Red and blue lights emblaze weed-glazed eyes —

A smoker at the wrong place, wrong time.


I sweep and mop and scrub and sweep and mop and scrub

but the fucking floor never stays clean.

Carefully count the change —

never owe them anything.


The long walk to the car in the dark,

pepper spray in hand.

Lock the door. Turn the key.

Buckle the vodka into the passenger seat.


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