My First Job
Over steaming pots, the cooks were ornery,
flushed. In uniforms and hairnets, we constantly
scuttled—placing orders, delivering food. The boss
with pursed lips often screamed. Those first weeks,
at night I’d collapse on my schoolgirl bed, my arms, legs,
back ached. A few times I cried. Early on, I had trouble
remembering, brought the wrong dish, apologized.
A customer snapped, “This soup is cold. Take it back.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I replied and lifted the hot bowl. I can still
see the steam rising from that fragrant chowder.
Some people were kind though they didn’t have to be.
Soft, gentle words and smiles. Origami birds and coins.
During lulls I read Plato’s Republic and studied
an aging redhead who spat: “Yaw just heah for the
summah. Ya don’t know what this life is like.
I raised my baby in a cahdbawd box,
couldn’t affawd a crib.” At sixteen, I served all kinds,
learned to swallow the good with the bad.
After a while, I hit my stride. At the end of each day,
I poured a heap of tips onto my bureau,
breezed out to the movies or on a date.
Decades later, when my brother-in-law barked at a young
waitress in a little café, I wanted to climb under the table.
Plato understood: A petty tyrant beholding his own
soul may behave unrighteously and deteriorates his lot.
The waitress didn’t get angry; she just brought the order.
You learn a lot bringing food to people.