By Jo Pitkin
Village: Candy Store
One sells hot dogs from a parked truck,
one bottles face lotion in her kitchen.
In tough times, entrepreneurs pop up
the way dandelions do after rainfall.
Surveying my options, I fancy I could
operate a stand for weekend hikers
on my porch: cocoa or coffee in winter,
water and energy bars in summer.
In the 1960s, my sister and I opened
our own candy store in our front yard.
Weekday mornings, we mixed pitchers
of neon-colored Kool Aid, stapled
hand-made signs to telephone poles,
heaped wicker baskets with mounds
of Mary Janes, Tootsie Rolls, Pixy Stix,
Necco wafers, candy necklaces, wax lips.
We displayed our stock on the metal
counter of a red-and-white playhouse
positioned under sap-glazed pines
and waited for hours for kids to ride
their Schwinns to spend sticky pennies,
nickels, dimes on what wouldn’t melt.
Afternoons, we shopped at Caldor’s.
With our earnings, we bought jumbo
bags in bulk. Mom showed us how to
price individual pieces to turn a profit.
For a few weeks each year we worked
to keep our unnamed, unregulated
pop-up enterprise afloat. We added new
brands and attractions to whet demand.
We let customers pat our two pet ducks
before biking away with their pockets
crammed full of sweet treasured treats
dyed childhood’s glossy, indelible hues.
Village: 80 Cents
In 1981 my colleague Beth and I
left our fluorescent-lit cubicles,
rode the elevator 28 floors down
to the lobby of One Beacon Street,
took our one hour-lunch break
at an Equal Rights Amendment rally
in the amphitheater in City Hall Plaza.
Standing on stone steps,
women waved coin-shaped signs: 59¢.
Young and ambitious, we felt lucky
to have landed editorial jobs
at a renowned publishing house
so rushed back to our small desks
and our by-the-book boss Mr. Doller
without losing a single minute
of work time worth $7.25 an hour.
After having carefully blended in
like a pair of arctic foxes
swallowed by snow in winter
or brown tundra in summer,
our brief foray into daylight
as off-the-clock lunchtime activists
was bugled in the local news.
We’d been exposed.
A photo of us made the Globe.
Today I work in my own business
using skills I learned at 25.
Today offices offer standing desks,
LED lights, ergonomic chairs.
Today interoffice memos, white out,
electric typewriters, liquid lunch,
100 percent health benefits: gone.
The ERA has been dead 40 years.
Our pay gap’s shrunk to 80 cents.
Village: Closing the Ruler Factory
There is nothing left to measure.
Here 12 and ½ employees—full-
timers and half-timers—had milled
scales, yardsticks, templates, rulers,
aluminum T-squares in rectangular
sea-blue Fairgate Rule Company at
the center of short Division Street.
For dozens of years, they’d scored
and punched gauges for designers,
dressmakers, architects, carpenters,
tailors, artists, draftsmen, engineers
until old clients put orders on hold
and machines retired a human guild.
Now wind cuts across a 10 x 10 lot,
100-square feet of dirt, rubble, foot-
high weeds. No more 8 to 4 shifts
tooling thin ticks or square shafts.
No one’s there to divide, cut, miter.
They’ll move on, catch up on sleep,
dream about cold light in the deep
abyssal zones of the starry oceans,
spread their hands to figure spans.
Let someone else count each cubit
in the orbit of our new 9th planet.
Jo Pitkin is the author of Cradle of the American Circus: Poems from Somers, New York; Commonplace Invasions; Rendering; and the forthcoming Village: Recession. Her poems have been published in The New York Review of Books, Little Star, Nimrod International Journal, Salamander, Southern Humanities Review, A Slant of Light, and other journals and anthologies. After working as an editor at Houghton Mifflin Company, she became a freelance educational writer. She lives in the former Pear Tree Hill School in the Hudson Valley.
The poem, “Village: Closing the Ruler Factory” first appeared in Terrain.org.
Photos courtesy of Pikrepo