The Devil Is In

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The Devil Is In

by Tanya Olson
Southern Cultures, Vol. 13, No. 1: Spring 2007

"The devil was in the grocery store yesterday . . ."

The first year of graduate school, it was the questions
that woke me every night at 3 a.m. When will they
    figure out I’m an impostor, and I can’t do the work?
How do I deal with the students in my own class?
     What can I do over the summer for money?
Insomnia, at least, made it easier to keep up with all the reading.

When spring semester ended, the temp agency assigned me
to a medical supply factory. They wore space suits
and hoodies in the sterile sections. This part of the factory’s clean,
that part’s hard I was told the first thing on the first day.
Those aren’t really opposites I suggested.
Maybe not, but don’t wear that gear outside this airlock.
     Otherwise, you have to re-gown.

I was sent to the ostomy line where I filled in for the girl on maternity leave.
The line always ran mandatory overtime. The curse:
the line was up and running by 5 a.m. each day. The blessing: my insomnia,
cured. We took lunch at 10:40 a.m. It took me two weeks
to remember not to start talking when I first sat down because Glenda liked
to pray before we ate. Lord, reach down and anoint this food
     so we may be better servants of your son. Wednesdays were full of promise
as we scanned the sale papers together, noting for each other
 Chicken legs’s 29 cent a pound and It’s half price pork chops at the Food Lion.

Renata liked to keep us updated on her diet and her battle with diabetes.
The devil was in the grocery store yesterday trying to lure
     me to sin. I told him, “You get back in that box of Pop-Tarts, Mr. Devil.
You ain’t getting to my sugar this week.” Eula confirmed,
it can happen that way. He calls your name, girl, you got to resist.
That’s it, said Renata. That’s it indeed.

We had cake (Good Bye, Good Luck) the day I left, summer over,
grad school beginning again. Don’t ever come back here
they insisted. Stay in school, finish what you’ve started, it’s what
we should have done. They believed in education, as they believed the Lord
reached down and touched their food daily,
as they believed the devil connived to tempt innocents in snack aisles.
I swallowed my cake and prayed I could continue
to work clean, live hard, sleep well.