debt ritual: mall

Katie Naughton


this is about beauty
being a teenager in the mall
like America it’s something
we did our greatest
proximity to something
bigger than ourselves
how my grandfather
would sit waiting and
see the local newscaster
getting her hair
done the quality
of the fountains and block glass
midways shifting brighter
and more glittering
the decades of my youth
in the American ’90s
though I don’t know
what it’s like anymore
all malls are not
the same and
this was ours
where we went
for hamburgers
the juice-colored juke box
with my grandmother where
my aunt then brother
worked through a series
of stores decades and
uniforms chocolates
gadgets and soaps
I forgot how
much time I
spent at the mall
and money moments
of recognition
or its opposite
my first starburst
age two or so
the chlorine
of cold coins wet
from the fountain
the vinyl pile
of princesses
in the toy store
the warm pull
of cookies the only
snack we ever bought
away from home
the glycerin and hot
sun of soap the party
bass of Abercrombie
like we had a friend
with a vacation house
in the pine forests
of somewhere desirable
because someone chose
us to be presented
with these t-shirts
sweaters and low-
rise jeans how
one field trip
we went straight
from the museum
for Gauguin to
the mall for lunch
and there we were
having arrived that day
in the bright perfumed
public of the suburbs





KATIE NAUGHTON is the author of the chapbooks Study (Above/Ground Press, 2021) and A Second Singing (forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press, 2023). Her poetry has been published or is forthcoming in Fence, Bennington Review, Colorado Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, and elsewhere. She is the editor of Etcetera, a web journal of reading recommendations from poets (, and a doctoral candidate in the Poetics program at SUNY – Buffalo.


The art published alongside this poem is by Anna Buckley.