At a Deli Counter in Vermont

Your ride home complains      the grocery store is freezing
they’d rather wait outside       the burly guy
with the walrus stache asks whether you want your Italian
with the works              You’re not sure what that means

So you ask and he tells you    laboriously surprised
and also do you want tomato              thanks
you lean on the counter and focus     on condensation
the chill on your palm and forearm    and under the glass

the meats in trays and butcher paper beds
some sausages            sad stacked-up tongue
a leathery souse or loaf            so out of it

that when he wants to know if that’s your order
and calls out loud         Is that your order ma’am
you startle and then apologize            for taking up his time
but he called you ma’am          so you don’t mind


Copyright © 2019 by Stephanie Burt. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 9, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“It happened exactly as the poem says. I was delighted by what for most people would have been an awkward consumer interaction, because a stranger had seen me in a literally unflattering light, and heard my voice, and still saw me as a woman. For binary trans people like me, that's huge. Our sense of self-worth and well-being can depend on whether the people around us reinforce, or deny, our inner sense of who we are. As for the lines, they're vaguely Anglo-Saxon, with midline breaks. I think I learned to do that sort of thing (if I did learn it) from Forrest Gander, though there are other examples, among them Carter Revard!”
Stephanie Burt