University of Southern Indiana

"Buying Back-to-School Supplies"

by Matthew Guenette

Some dude in the parking lot
at Wal-Mart gave me shit
for my pink flip-flops and toenails
painted teal. Yes, teal. So I popped
a beer right there (God said

I could) and chugged it in front
of my kids who were like,
“Dad! What are you doing?”
Then I snaked that dude
like my friend Ernie showed me

at bonfires during our hairmetal
head-banging big-pisser
youth, dragged his ass across
a ditch to the last un-bulldozed
wetland on the east side, and

introduced him to the invasive
red plastic underage drink cups,
the ducks of no remorse, plus a bunch
of mean cattails that stuck up
from the mud like the antenna

of sunk cars. I called back:
“Welcome to the other
side of summer kids!” Then that
dude’s swamp uncles crawled up
from the mudflats, called him

“junior,” told him stories
of shoveling shit for a living—
but that’s life for you.
I’m 46; most days I walk
around in handcuffs and a blindfold

because my brain is a mess—
too many Lindsay Lohan tweets,
not enough opera; too
many mutant zombie apocalypse
flicks and episodes of Queer

Eye, all those bio-chemically
engineered Starbursts I can’t stop
eating that taste like sex.
And my kids are supposed to
look up to me? But when

my daughter finally said, “What
did that man say?”—Presto!
We were back in the parking
lot safe and sound, me with my flip-
flops and painted toes, that dude

un-swamped and off somewhere
chuckling to himself. What did
he say? “Absolutely nothing
pumpkin. Now who wants
ice cream? Daddy’s buying!”

The seeds for "Buying Back-To-School Supplies" were planted a few years back, when some dude really did give me a hard time for my pink flip-flops in a Walmart parking lot. I had forgotten about it, then remembered it suddenly when I took my kids shopping for back-to-school supplies. Shopping with kids is like shopping with time bombs: they want EVERYTHING, which means the afternoon can explode into tantrums. A parent can feel helpless, as I often do. So it felt natural to conflate those two events.

Matthew Guenette is the author of three poetry collections, including Vasectomania and American Busboy, both from the University of Akron Press. His first book, Sudden Anthem, winner of the American Poetry Journal Book Prize, is published by Dream Horse Press. Guenette works at a technical college in Madison, Wisconsin, where he lives with his wife, their two children, and a twenty-pound cat named Butternut.

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