Sarah Elkins

Body English

Another ten people are dead,
this time at a grocery store.

I’m out of eggs
and so many other things.

So, I’m in a Food Lion
too soon, where every white man

has an unkempt beard
and keeps a hand in his pocket

or a thumb hooked on his belt
steering a cart with the other.

I make long eye contact
that asks, Do you feel

like killing people today?
And, I’m really asking, really

using the power I honed
in childhood. I read these men:

the furrow between the brows,
the sag of the shoulders,

the line of the mouth. When a man
is about to strike, his top lip gets thin,

the teeth visible but not bared
like a dog’s, more like a faint smile.

The trick: take it in fast.
Don’t linger on the face or even the hands.

Hands are liars—casual, bored, the last
to move. All violence begins in the hips.

One man paces the produce
section without a cart.

His left hand busily ticking
as if he’s counting steps,

thumb to forefinger, then middle,
ring, pinkie, and over again.

I look for him at the top of each aisle
before I turn down the next.

His feet splay in clumsy sneakers,
not following the hips’ direction.

This man is no threat to anyone
today, which is how it always begins.

Sarah Elkins lives in southern West Virginia. Her poetry has most recently appeared in Passengers Journal, Rust + Moth, and The Shore; critical analysis in Kestrel. She holds an MFA from Pacific University.