Saturday, May 13, 2017

Poetry & Portraits: Ode to a Department Store

By Eric Meub


Discriminate, my child! Leave cheaper wares
to bargain-basement huntresses downstairs;
let Target’s multitudes stampede or graze;
let online shoppers stalk in negligees.

No worldly lust is sated by supply;
mere purchase disappoints your prowling eye.
By all means look, but will you never tire
of seeking the Augustan in a mire?

Your mother never suffered as you do.
A stranger to the dumps, to feeling blue,
she wore her optimism like a crown:
not even Joni Mitchell brought her down.

We prodigals have since seen bounties lost
to dull convenience and the lowest cost—
Man lives to scuttle what he loves and leave
the wreck to barnacle beyond retrieve.

Your shops are rusted from their bridal prime,
their cargoed treasures reprehending time,
their spectacles these many years denied,
their courtesies and rituals let slide.

But say Department Store and you’ve defined
the Church and City Hall of womankind,
not yet the lair of men or idle youth,
but Troy to Helen, Bethlehem to Ruth.

From perfume counters near the gilded doors
to gown salons upon the upper floors,
the escalating suppliant was awed
to find therein the very mind of God.

The gates and jeweled windows round her hem
all trumpeted a New Jerusalem
in which the clasp of every woman’s purse
could open portals to the universe.

A Jacob’s Ladder lifted to its crown
glad angels wafting treadless up and down.
Aloft, they turned to Heaven hopeful eyes;
descending, toted gifts of merchandise.

I brought your mother there when she was eight
to slander off-the-rack and silver plate,
to mentor her in fitting-room devotions
and how to handle Mrs White in Notions.

The staff and salesgirls doted on her through
the years of braces, braids, and pageboy do,
up to her great Transfiguration – you
were cheated, dearest, out of your debut.

The taffeta and satin by the yards,
the stationer engraving calling cards,
the frank enthusiasms of the staff:
what didn’t turn her head just made her laugh.

She’s coming in at two! She’s on the phone! –
as if the store belonged to her alone,
and waves of sympathetic luck would break
on all who lived that summer in her wake.

Your Walmart’s just a warehouse and façade,
Ikea but a furnished promenade.
The charm of retail rots with such as these:
you might as well be buying groceries.

Copyright © 2017 by Eric Meub
Eric Meub, architect, lives and practices in Pasadena. He is the adopted brother of the artist, Susan C. Price. They respect, in their different ways, the line.


  1. me, Bette Mae and Karen, yes and yes and yes

  2. Very droll and entertaining Eric! We've all heard the siren's call of cheap goods, pray God we resist.

  3. Eric, upon my x<th> and (x + 1)<th> readings, I discovered a mystery in the narrative: why was the granddaughter “cheated out of her debut”? The answer seems to lie in her mother’s having been self-absorbed to the point of not much attending to mentoring her daughter. The grandmother’s story seems to suggest that her daughter had been too doted on by department store staff and salesgirls. I.e., it had quite gone to her head, to the exclusion of her own daughter. And has that mother passed on – has she died?

  4. Allusory evidence that the grandmother's own daughter has died might be the images of going up to heaven and the use of the word "Transfiguration" referring to her coming out(?). That's a stretch, but it's the only other "evidence" I can see, as of my "x + 1" readings so far.

  5. Sorry to be late responding: I've been on a grueling business trip. Thank you Susan, Roger and Morris for your kind words. Morris, you have some interesting theories about this lady's (and her granddaughter's) backstories. Maybe she has more to tell...

    1. Know, Eric, that you have just raised my expectations!