Every week there was a new defensive tactic
added to the handbook, and we catalogued
and passed them around like recipes
while Manager Dave waited in the back of the house
by the walk-in refrigerator. Everybody’s ass
got groped or grazed. In those days we called it
an occupational hazard. But the tips were better
than anywhere else this side of stripping
so no one wanted to leave if they could help it
unless they left for good, for Hollywood
or Happiness. Cover me, we’d say
when we had to go into the pantry or the freezer.
We pulled the new girls aside,
gave them the lowdown. We went out
to smoke in pairs, even if we didn’t smoke.
On the back dock on one such night, Orion
loomed above, larger than I’d ever seen it, every stud
in the hunter’s belt ablaze. The other waitress,
I forget her name, talked and blew smoke
rings into the sky as I beheld the tapestry,
each bright stitch, and everything else fell away:
my day-to-day despair, Manager Dave, the heavy door
he tried to trap me behind. For a moment I sensed
a world beyond that one: the desert city, its merciless
string of waitressing jobs, the not-quite-men it offered up
like crushed beer cans, F-150 trucks and dirty jokes
washed up on a shore the moon had long abandoned.
I tell you this because that night I knew
a peace I’ve forgotten too many times, though it laps
at my ankles tonight like this cold tide
that seems to cast us backward as it recedes.
And I wonder how the stars so long ago, blinking
out their ancient code, could have known
to deliver me to this shore, this quiet night, and to you,
our feet sand-blackened, a latticework of clouds,
the bright hunter’s moon moving through.
—from Rattle #69, Fall 2020
Tribute to Service Workers
Jackleen Holton: “I put myself through college waiting tables, and have fallen back into it a few times when I was feeling less than enthusiastic about my career options. I was good at it, but not as good at managing the stress I caused myself in doing it. What I didn’t realize, at least in the early days, is the spiritual value of service, of discarding one’s self-importance for a time to give to others. I’ve since discovered that all work is service work.” (web)