big box store
Shopping carts were invented in Oklahoma City in 1937. (Tres Savage)

In a big box store where managers train to intimidate,
associates zone in packs crossing aisles, arranging order
To be broken, by management’s pecking order.
The chain is as strong as the nearest cash register link,
But the employee chain is pulled tighter
until the reward is gone for he/she newbies
placed on cloned ailes of monotone products as distant to
life as the associate’s identity is to the billionaire owners, who are
insulated from their workers’ lives going nowhere but down.
Their billions provide no living wage.
Instead associates hear
human resources’ shrill
“I don’t have time for you.”

Like worker ants, the employees sift away.
Concrete floor below restless searching for a bygone dream,
unpacking boxes for a mass consumer audience
wanting something different – “That perfect something.”
But now, this instant, is always the demand.

Money walks through the same doors, greeted by the same burnt-out worker hoping for what lies beyond
Cries to hurry up, keep pace, and “listen to me now,
not the other manager.”
Associates want a drop from the bucket of a life,
but need permission to urinate.
Disillusion replaces what they thought life would be,
Pushing boxes down aisles, lifting without thanks.
Workers are a commodity, a life to be robbed bare to the bone
by managers paid to belittle.
Schedules decided by computers, so blame the system,
and no one cares who is ripped off
of time and faith.
I think I’ll title the poem, “The Plan.”
“Don’t call it that because they have no plans,” the worker says.
“They have intentions, but they have no plans.”

(Editor’s note: NonDoc publishes poetry, short prose, visual art and other artistic ideas pitched by creatives in Oklahoma and around the world. Submissions are encouraged, but pieces should be at least 275 words in length. Submit your work for consideration by contacting

James Coburn is an Oklahoma poet, photographer and journalist. His first book of poetry, "Words of Rain," was a 2015 finalist for the Oklahoma Book Awards. His work has appeared numerous anthologies. A long­time journalist for The Edmond Sun, Coburn is a 2013 inductee of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame.