Ellen Bass
Walking by Circle Market Late at Night

The city is quiet

as though it’s cried itself out.

Circle Market, its windows busy

with stickers for surfboard wax and bands

with names like Make-A-Mistake

is dark now too.  Last year

the owner was held up,

but he handed over the money

and wasn’t shot.

When I read about it,

I sealed two twenties and a ten

in an envelope and walked over

with my dog on a leash.

We went there a lot

when the kids were little,

popsicles and nights we ran out of milk.

Mr. Lee on his high stool

by the cash register, presiding

over the aisles, the dusty cans

of Campbell’s soup and Hamburger Helper,

Huggies and Ajax.

His body looked sunken now

and his eyes jerked over to the door

when he told me the man pointed

a gun at his wife—she’d been sitting

on a stack of the Sunday Chronicles

and warned him not to reach

for the phone. After that

he wouldn’t let me pay for my pint

of Haagen-Dazs and added

an ice cream sandwich on top—

for the child he said, even though

the youngest is grown and gone.

When I protested he slipped in

a Snickers bar and when I insisted

he couldn’t keep doing this,

he tossed in a handful of Chiclets.

Last summer when my friend was visiting,

I sent her instead, but he’d seen us

walking the dog together

and wouldn’t let her pay either,

sneaking in a pack

of American Spirit Lights and a yellow Bic.

The Greeks believed

every human act is perilous.

I can’t go in there anymore.

Found In Volume 40, No. 02
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Ellen Bass
About the Author

Ellen Bass’s books include Like a Beggar (Copper Canyon, 2014), The Human Line, and Mules of Love. She co-edited (with Florence Howe) the groundbreaking No More Masks! An Anthology of Poems by Women (Doubleday, 1973).