Verse > Anthologies > Louis Untermeyer, ed. > Modern American Poetry
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Louis Untermeyer, ed. (1885–1977). Modern American Poetry.  1919.
 
Eunice Tietjens. 1884–
 
103. The Drug Clerk
 
THE drug clerk stands behind the counter 
Young and dapper and debonair.... 
  
Before him burn the great unwinking lights 
The hectic stars of city nights, 
Red as hell's pit, green as a mermaid's hair.         5
A queer half-acrid smell is in the air. 
Behind him on the shelves in ordered rows 
With strange, abbreviated names 
Dwell half the facts of life. That young man knows, 
Bottled and boxed and powdered here,  10
Dumb tragedies, deceptions, secret shames, 
And comedy and fear. 
  
Sleep slumbers here, like a great quiet sea 
Shrunk to this bottle's compass; sleep that brings 
Sweet respite from the teeth of pain  15
To those poor tossing things 
That the white nurses watch so thoughtfully. 
And here again 
Dwell the shy souls of Maytime flowers 
That shall make sweeter still those poignant hours  20
When wide-eyed youth looks on the face of love. 
And, for those others who have found too late 
The bitter fruits thereof, 
Here are cosmetics, powders, paints,—the arts 
That hunted women use to hunt again  25
With scented flesh for bait. 
And here is comfort for the hearts 
Of sucking babes in their first teething pain. 
Here dwells the substance of huge fervid dreams, 
Fantastic, many-colored, shot with gleams  30
Of ecstasy and madness, that shall come 
To some pale, twitching sleeper in a bunk. 
And here is courage, cheaply bought 
To cure a blue sick funk, 
And dearly paid for in the final sum.  35
Here in this powdered fly is caught 
Desire more ravishing than Tarquin's.... 
  And at last 
When the one weary hope is past 
Here is the sole escape,  40
The little postern in the house of breath 
Where pallid fugitives keep tryst with death. 
  
All this the drug clerk knows and there he stands, 
Young and dapper and debonair.... 
He rests a pair of slender hands,  45
Much manicured, upon the counter there 
And speaks: "No, we don't carry no pomade, 
We only cater to the high-class trade." 
 
 
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