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Samuel Tongue: a poem

Supermarket Sonnet: Modern Abundance matching Modern Prosperity

1. In a time of pandemic, it is the supermarket that is both haven and vector. Local high street or out-of-town mega-marts, they are churches like beached whales are churches.

2. It is no accident that so many post-apocalyptic horror films include the trope of the ruined supermarket. A shattered hell-mouth where modern abundance matches modern prosperity. Apocalypse always happens locally, in your neck of the woods.

3. If supermarkets are whales, Americans like their photos taken in both, praying. In Gothenburg Natural History Museum, there is a preserved whale with its skin screwed back on. Benches line its mouth and, once or twice, couples have been found in flagrante in its belly.

4. A full belly, for as long as it lasts, is still a full belly. Ballast.

5. Supermarkets swallow you whole, then spit you out, blinking stupidly. My local ASDA offers a prophecy of present and future in a squeaky trolley, one wheel refusing to roll the right way. Abundance as essence, abundance as promise. The Tannoy groans and creaks like whale-song.

6. The Gothenburg whale was coated inside with a saturated arsenic solution. But the real horror is in the familiar made strange: the puff of once-full shelves, emptied, twenty-nine types of peanut butter vanishing as if they'd never been.

7. It is always autumn in the apocalypse, leaves piled in the corners of trolley-parks, banked up in doorways. It's good advice not to trust the doorways swept suspiciously clean. But, hey, it's your choice. And it's always good to have a choice.

8. There is only one aisle inside a whale, padded like a subway carriage. Which is why most people prefer supermarkets, in the main. More room to pray.

9. Supermarket design is all about desire lines and tickling your fancy. The smell of fresh-baked bread. Massive reductions on Snack Attacks. But it's a bit more elemental now: pasta, flour, tins of tomatoes rare as ambergris.

10. Scholars have verified that a person can pass through the throat of a supermarket, one at a time, and each greased with sanitiser.

11. The supermarket as a whale is also a kind of ark, a boat-like saviour. All of them are symbols of apocalypse, in their own way. A familial resemblance with enough storage to carry all this meaning and more. Biblical collocation always ramps up in the end-times.

12. Sometimes it is difficult to tell where the belly stops and the mind begins. In the films, the undead are mindless, irrational, but they haunt those same supermarkets, bumping up against the automatic doors, bolted shut. Palmprints on the insides of freezers.

13. The unspoken fear that even a modest prosperity cannot prop this up much longer. That stomach-churning moment when your neighbour comes too close.

14. It will all go online. But a personal shopper still has to select your bell peppers; a delivery driver still has to hump the crates of whale-meat up your stairs. Prosperity, like the apocalypse, is always local and particular. Luckily, you can also pray online.

The title is taken from a line in Glasgow 1980, Dir Oscar Marzaroli: Films of Scotland and Glasgow Corporation, 1971

Samuel Tongue is a widely-published poet with a debut collection, Sacrifice Zones (Red Squirrel 2020), and two pamphlet collections: Stitch (Tapsalteerie, 2018) and Hauling-Out (Eyewear, 2016). A selection of poems is to be published in an Ukrainian translation by KROK in 2021. His work has been featured in journals and newspapers including And Other Poems, Butcher’s Dog, Blackbox Manifold, Envoi, Finished Creatures, Magma, Northwords Now, Gutter, The Herald, The Interpreter’s House, The Scotsman, The Compass and the anthologies Be The First to Like This: New Scottish Poetry (Vagabond Voices) and 100 Poems to Save the Earth (Seren). He is former poetry editor at The Glasgow Review of Books and works as project coordinator at the Scottish Poetry Library.


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