Bellday Books
Bellday Books
The Candy Man


Came with his punchboard.
I pushed out numbers for choice prizes.
Once a month the promise went out over the countryside.
The Watkins Products Man, too.
Had a chicken coop tied to his front bumper.
He’d take a chicken as payment, say, for horse lineament.

Did you work to satisfy your credit at Pap’s commissary,
tense up when you entered the store?
Did the farmers there court the drinkstand to give you room?
Did you ever punch a board or trade eggs for pretty things?

I did have a Candy Man.
I did not wish for hair to let down to dry his feet at footwashings.
Sometimes I gave him an eyeful and lost him.
In the fall when colors called my face shadowed his window.
At dusk, the table set with fatback and molasses−his skin twinged until a voice
sang for me alone until the tune went out of hearing.


Mr. Charlie Parrish’s Store loomed way up Paul’s Hill.
I would walk with eggs in my pockets to swap for merchandise,
lean against the colddrinkbox and listen:

Hallo! Heck, I garn-dam-tee
you this: no ragged-assed farmer’ll
get in no field today; tractors’ll
mar up over the mufflers, I tell you−
row a boat in the ditches down yonder by Paul Coats’s sloughs.

Tom’s Roasted Peanuts float in a Pepsi Heck guzzles.
He’s no holier-than-the-learned race of farmers who’ll tell you:
Workworkwork and what do you get?!
Bonier and bonier and sloppy-assed in debt!
Sleeves waving, he lowers himself down the sandy, shackly, wooden steps.


-Shelby Stephenson, North Carolina Poet Laureate

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