Immediately after the diagnosis, we flip through the racks.

Each of us yearns for a sweater or spoons—a reason to stay—a bargain—a bet.

Ma and I search different sections of the store for something—then each other.

Her—in lamps. Me—in clothes. Striking wires—

The clacking hangers clapping one after another—bursting at the joints 

mimicking the sounds of knobs turning,

or window panes breaking in slow motion, the air knocked out of them, too.

I stack clearance candles in our cart.

Ma checks out bathroom rugs and kitchen towels.

These days we build separate homes from red tag items.

I miss Ma the most between the Kitchen and Women’s Clothing departments.

Unraveled by the operation of how 

one builds a house from the inside.

A second diagnosis that day: I won’t ever come back here alone after she’s gone.

Isn’t shopping a series of searching?

On the best days, everything is a grab—a steal—cancer and—my mother from me.

My hope is that every space with four walls—that every day of treatment 

will be a door out—will be sunlight in bags—despite discount—let it be—big—

all the time we buy back. 


Copyright © 2023 by Janice Lobo Sapigao. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 24, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets. 

About this Poem

“Discount stores have always been a source of respite for me and my Filipino immigrant family. I grew up in store aisles learning about what constructs a home and what creates comfort. These retail outlets were liminal, tethering spaces, in between home and the external world, where we needed to go outside to take care of our inside needs. This poem reminds me of how home became vulnerable to shattering, to endings. It reflects the emotional costs of coping. Saving money is saving time, and shopping for the right items is much like trying to find the most fitting words.”
—Janice Lobo Sapigao