Paul Tanner

Three Poems – Paul Tanner

five-foot six of necessity

Susan’s not coming in.
she’s still upset about that guy pinching her arse yesterday.
Mike called in sick.
I think those girls taking the piss out of his acne really got to him.
Jenny’s been off since some dude called her fat.
Jim doesn’t do Thursdays:
that’s when his ex comes in with her new bloke,
the one who wears a suit, and they follow him around the shop
saying ‘there’s a gap in this shelf’ and ‘nice polo shirt’ and
stuff like that.

point is, it’s just me on the floor.
and a couple of girls come up to me:
‘was going to ask you to get something off
a top shelf for me,’ one tells me,
‘but I bet you couldn’t even reach the top shelf,
could you?’
‘yeah,’ says the other. ‘short arse!’
and they strut off laughing.

it’s a good job I’m thick-skinned.
it’s a good job
my skin’s too thick
to look for a
good job.

it’s just me on the floor
as the boss hides in the back office,
ringing staff, begging them to come in.
he doesn’t want to be on the floor either
for some reason.


brief spikes

what’s your returns policy? he asks me.

you’ve got a month to bring it back, I say.
after that you can only get an exchange voucher –

“you only have a month,” he repeats,
in a high voice.
“then you only get an exchange voucher,”
he pulls a sulky baby face and bobs his head.
“wah wah waaah …”

I just
look at him.

he looks
right back
at me.

… an exchange voucher for the full amount, I go on.
valid for a year, in any store and online –

fine, he says over his shoulder,
already turning to leave,
like he gives up.

gives up what?

I’ll think about it, he says,
his back to me
as he walks away …

he’s not the only one.


death of a shop worker

I know I will die how I lived:
arguing with customers

if that is my fate so be it
but obviously I can’t afford a funeral –
you know what you pay me
so how about you have me stuffed
and prop me up at the checkouts
with a “NO REFUNDS” speech bubble
sticking out of my cold stuffed head

the customers can continue to curse me,
they can keep up their threats,
their spit running down my stern dead face,
their fists shaking under my stern dead chin
but no more tears will my stern dead face shed:
my chin too stern, too dead to wobble
and my minimum wage soul will look down
or up
as they drive themselves mad
trying to get a reaction out of my shop worker corpse,
maybe so mad
that they come join me
in the great supermarket beyond
and we can do it all again
forever, like we always have.

plus, you can finally pay me
absolutely nothing,
you know,
instead of
next to that?


Paul Tanner has been earning minimum wage, and writing about it, for too long. Was shortlisted for the Erbacce 2020 Poetry Prize. Shop Talk: Poems for Shop Workers was published last year by Penniless Press. No Refunds: Poems and cartoons from your local supermarket is out now, from Alien Buddha Press. His star sign is Libido. Hobbies include pillage and colouring in.