I wrote a longish sequence of poems called 'The Automatic Days' about life in a department store, the day-to-day living stuff, and I will read this narrative extract from 'The Automatic Days'.

The Automatic Days – an extract


The music stops in mid-bar on the PA,
So all the customers realise there was music
And wonder what comes now. ‘Will Mrs Gurnard
Come to the Manager’s ofice, will Mrs Gurnard
Come to the Manager’s office. Thank you.’ Click,
And the music starts again. Therefore she swivels
Round to tell Tamsin to stay with the cashdesk,
And strides off smiling down a glade of coats
To do the thing for which she has been thanked.
The customers themselves feel thanked for suffering
A remission of the music which they hardly
Knew they were hearing. Tomorrow is the Sale.

She smiles at the girl on the cosmetics,
Penned in among the scents and paints and creams,
Who returns her a tanned and haggard look
Expensively reproaching anyone
Who passes, and will not be beautiful.
She smiles through the cafeteria swing doors,
And she smiles at Trevor with his agreements,
Imprisoned by some thirty capering screens.
At any second, somewhere in the world,
You can push flat a square button and get the sound
Of an audience screaming with happiness.
She pushes the bell for the Manager’s happy smile.

Next day she wears a square blue disc which says:
A few inquisitive customers contrive
To read it, then look up and fit the name
To the face, or vice versa. More customers
Interrupt what she’s doing with enquires;
It must be the disc, or something in the way
She stands, or gives instructions to younger people,
Or just seems older…Beverley’s little disc
Says only BEVERLEY, Tamsin’s TAMSIN.
Mrs Gurnard now walks faster everywhere,
Effect of being promoted to be old.

From now on she is one of eleven ‘A.M.s’,
Men and women; and nearly all the time
The shop is in focus for her. But customers
Are a problem, or watching them is; one of
Her big responsibilities the moment
She enters. Being a customer herself
Does not feel natural any more, you go
To other shops, and watch; or wonder who
Is customer and who Security.
Some of the staff are Security as well.
Beverley has a dream that, except for her,
All customers and staff are Security.

from Collected Poems (Enitharmon, 2006), copyright © Alan Brownjohn, 2006, used by permission of the author.

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