The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Ronald Wallace

At Costco


“I am large. I contain multitudes.”

Everything is oversized. Why buy by the ounce
when you can buy in bulk, buy by the pound.
Or, hell, don’t stop there, come, buy by the ton.
Gone are the days when, if given an inch
you’d be happy, you’d never consider taking a mile
or setting your sights higher, say on a hectare.

But now, here you are faced with a hectare
of household stuff, and you with not an ounce
of restraint, while, spread out before you, mile
after mile of mass packaging by the pound
piles up, as you, behind your car-sized cart, inch
along through acres of Kotex and Kleenex, a ton

of TP, a billowy cumulonimbus-like ton
of tough paper towels, facing a hectare
of dairy, its herds of milk cartons inch-
ing along, flanked by a gaggle of eggs, as ounce
by ounce, cheeses increase until even a pound
is impossible: you must buy a good mile

of brie, an acre of Swiss and cheddar, a mile
of muenster, cumquats and blueberries by the ton,
an atoll of hamburger and lamb, a ten-pound
tenderloin, a salmon steak a hectare
long. Who will write elegies for the ounce,
who will write odes celebrating the inch?

In this cosmos of canned goods, I’m an inch
worm, a fly speck, a midge, the Exit a mile
away. I’m shrunken, diminished, a mere ounce
of myself. What in the world would I do with a ton
of rice cakes or ramen or rutabagas, with a hectare
of hairspray, toothpaste, deodorant, a ten-pound

dandruff shampoo? America! A pound
of cure is excessive! Give me just one inch
of prevention! Enough with this hectare
of hoggishness! Stop going the extra mile!
Stop hyperventilating! And yes, though I love you a ton,
I’m downsizing this sestina by more than an ounce!



Ronald Wallace

Grand Hotel


                        More and more I find

                                   I want to be alone, or,

                                               more precisely, I vant to be

                                                          let alone, which is what

                                                                    Greta Garbo really said

                                                                    in that movie few these days

                                                                                 have seen, but have no compunction

                                                                                             about misquoting from.

                                                                                             Of course, there’s a big

difference.                                                                                                    Being alone is,

well, lonely,

            something no one wants to be.

            Being let alone is

                        something else altogether,

                                     being unfettered, unbothered,

                                                  left to one’s own devices

                                                               where one can be oneself, not

                                                                            the familiar reflection in

                                                                            someone else’s eye. Hell is

                                                                                       other people, said Sartre,

                                                                                                 by which he must have meant,

                                                                                                 I think, the trap they set for

you,                                                                                                      the reflection their view

of you                                                                                                   locks you in, the Big

House                                                                                                               of their

expectations. No one

             wants to be just a line

                          in someone else’s script,

                                       black and white celluloid

                                                   in its archaic metallic case.

                                                                 No one wants to be that lonely,

                                                                             let alone me and my Greta Garbo.




RONALD WALLACE is Felix Pollak Professor Emeritus of Poetry at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and Poetry Editor of the University of Wisconsin Press. The author of over twenty books and chapbooks of poetry, fiction, and criticism, including, most recently For Dear Life and For A Limited Time Only (both from the University of Pittsburgh Press), he divides his time between Madison and a forty-acre farm in Bear Valley, Wisconsin.



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