Facing Shelves

I first saw this poem in Poetry Daily. When I contacted the poet for permission to print it here, I had a lovely exchange with them about my time as a library volunteer, facing the books on the shelves. I love the play of the two-faced god through the poem, which comes out especially with the hand reaching through the shelf at the end, the shelves as a liminal, transitional space.

Janus Faces the Canned Goods Aisle

as a verb, (facing) refers to the
physical action of moving products to the
edge of the shelf to ensure shelves always
appear full, even if they are not

-darren gilbert, “an expert’s

guide to product facing”


deep and compulsive I reach
into the dark place
between the kidney and the black
beans, to pull what’s hidden to the front,
to maintain the feel of a well-stocked shelf, a horn
of plenty. my hand
fetches the last can, draws it out, the fecund delusion
of the steady stream
of men who’d load their arms
with lightly damaged things, and lay them at my feet

strawberries, bulk snacks, wool socks
in winter, of the always open-closing door
produce guy, meat guy, night crew sauntering in, 9 or so,
whenever I closed, who’d wink and ask,
will you check me out, by which they meant, let me
steal something

I used to dream of making out in the dairy case
with each and every one
whenever I was alone in the breakroom, licking day-old yogurt
from my plastic spoon
between stanzas of the metamorphoses, beat-up copy we’d read
in fifteen-minute segments. I line up
cans, satisfying form.
a can for the stocker let go
for singing in the aisles. a can
for the hidden hand appearing
from the other side of the milks, encouraging
the bottle forward as I reach in

Mack Gregg