3 Poems by Brian Rihlmann



This is the upscale Starbucks

at the base of the mountain, and

they’re filtering in now, dressed in the 

latest ski fashions, eating breakfast 

and sipping mocha lattes.  


The conversations are a bit different here, 

than the one by my job.  There’s no 

construction guys bitching about working 

Saturday, about frozen fingertips and toes,

or a single mom telling a friend how she’ll  

probably have to quit coming here,

and definitely get on food stamps now, 

after her landlord raised her rent 40 percent 

in a jump—if she still can, that is…

if food stamps are still a thing.


Instead, I get to overhear a guy telling 

a friend how they’re eating at home 

more now, because they were spending 

like three grand a month at restaurants, 

and the other responds how he’s bailing 

his girlfriend out of bankruptcy, again,

but “I finally get resentful, having to

write all these checks, you know?”


I’ll just bet you do.

©Brian Rihlmann



even in the so-called best of times

there exist pockets of blight 

here’s one now, beside my local supermarket—

two vacant storefronts with darkened windows


but between them, a beacon—

a payday loan store

glowing bright


a cashier at the counter

smiles as a man shuffles in

his baseball cap pulled low


her smile seems genuine 

she’s young, and I’ll bet she’s new

I’ll bet the boss man fed her a line—

how they provide a valuable service

giving loans to those with poor credit


“we don’t break bones like loan sharks”

he said, with a wink and a grin


though a broken bone would heal

long before this poor bastard

will ever finish paying off these gangsters


they’ll chase him for years

with fistfuls of paperwork

more deadly than a Louisville slugger

but nice and legal


he stands at the window

staring down at the counter

as he hands the cashier his testicles 

through a slot in the bulletproof glass 

and she smiles, again 
©Brian Rihlmann





I hear him from behind the shelves

and I swear

the old bastard

would wither and blow away

unless he was trying to recruit someone

to his side


he tells the new kid

about a homeless guy

at the supermarket near his house

about his overfilled grocery cart

how he just walks around

stands there with his cardboard sign


totally useless he says, laughing


can’t they do something about it?

maybe move ‘em out east….

what’s that place?

sand mountain, yeah…



I guess out there

they’d have no dumpsters

to eat from



do they get food stamps?

they probably sell ‘em for drugs

they oughta drug test ‘em


and the kid says, yeah…

maybe send them to drug treatment

if they test positive


if they test positive, shoot em

says the old bastard



I leave the area, then


I roam the aisles of the warehouse 

pondering the varieties of madness

and circumstance

privilege and free will…


I contemplate the widening cracks

we fall through—

are shoved through

when we’re not quite fat enough


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