Mrs. Neustead – Jim Zola

A stranger might have passed it by.
The old lady lived in the back
beyond the dusty clutter
of shelves that never felt
a health inspector’s dragged finger.
Front windows allowed smudged views
of cobwebbed boxes, detergent,
Frosted Flakes. We kept heads down,
searching dirt, grass, cracks in pavement
for stray coins. Those in favor
rushed behind the counter to select,
the rest of us were left to point —
the round green speckled things
there below the pixie sticks.

Barely four feet tall,
she shrank until she was just a voice
rising from the other side
of the case. Teens sauntered in
for beer and cigarettes.
She played mother hen
giving credit, forgetting to check ID’s.
I would like to say
Mrs. Neustead became air,
the sweet smell of a twisted
licorice stick. But the truth is
she was robbed, beaten.
Now, I drive past to see
the beauty parlor, then coffee shop,
then something else.
What I remember is the row
upon row of shapes, candy corn,
candy necklaces and cigarettes,
jaw breakers.

Jim ZolaJim Zola has worked in a warehouse, as a security guard, in a bookstore, as a teacher for Deaf children, as a toy designer for Fisher Price, and currently as a children’s librarian. Published in many journals through the years, his publications include a chapbook — The One Hundred Bones of Weather (Blue Pitcher Press) — and a full length poetry collection — What Glorious Possibilities (Aldrich Press). He currently lives in Greensboro, NC.