Dorianne Laux

Waitress

When I was young and had to rise at 5 am
I did not look at the lamp­light slic­ing
through the blinds and say: Once again
I have sur­vived the night.  I did not raise
my two hands to my face and whis­per:
This is the mir­a­cle of my flesh.  I walked
toward the cold water wait­ing to be released
and turned the tap so I could lis­ten to it
thrash through the rust­ed pipes.
I cupped my palms and thought of noth­ing.

I dressed in my blue uni­form and went to work.
I served the pub­lic, looked down on its
bald­ing skulls, the knit­ted shawls draped
over its can­cer­ous shoul­ders, and took its orders,
wrote up or easy or scram­bled or poached
in the yel­low pads’ mar­gins and stabbed it through
the tip of the fry cook’s dead­ly planchette.

Those days I bare­ly had a pulse.  The man­ag­er
had vod­ka for break­fast, the bus­boys hid behind
the bleach box­es from the immi­gra­tion cops,
and the head wait­ress took ten per­cent
of our tips and stuffed them in her pock­et
with her cig­a­rettes and lip­stick. My feet
hurt.  I bal­anced the meat­loaf-laden trays.
Even the tips of my fin­gers ached.

I thought of noth­ing except sleep, a T.V. set’s
flick­er­ing cath­ode gleam wash­ing over me,
bap­tiz­ing my greasy body in its watery light.
And mon­ey, slip­ping the tas­sel of my coin purse
aside, open­ing the sil­ver clasp, star­ing deep
into that dark sac­ri­fi­cial abyss.

What can I say about that time, those years
I leaned against the rick­ety bal­cony on my break,
smok­ing my last saved butt?
It was sheer bad luck when I picked up
the glass cof­fee pot and spun around
to pour anoth­er cup.  All I could think
as it shat­tered was how it was the same shape
and size as the customer’s head.  And this is why
I don’t believe in acci­dents, the grainy dregs
run­ning like sludge down his thin tie
and pin-stripe shirt like they were chan­nels
riv­en for just this pur­pose.

It wasn’t my fault. I know that. But what, real­ly,
was the hur­ry? I dabbed at his bel­ly with a nap­kin.
He didn’t have a cut on him (physics) and only
his ear­lobe was burned. But my last day there
was the first day I looked up as I walked, the trees
shim­mer­ing green lanterns under the Prussian blue
par­tic­u­late sky, sun stream­ing between my fin­gers
as I waved at the bus, run­ning, breath­ing hard, think­ing:
This is the grand phe­nom­e­non of my body.  This thirst
is mine.  This is my one and only life.

~

Dorianne Laux’s most recent books of poems are The Book of Men (2011) and Facts about the Moon (2007), recip­i­ent of the Oregon Book Award and short-list­ed for the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize. Laux is also author of Awake, What We Carry, final­ist for the National Book Critic’s Circle Award, and Smoke, as well as two fine small press edi­tions, Superman: The Chapbook and Dark Charms, both from Red Dragonfly Press. Co-author of The Poet’s Companion:  A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry, she’s the recip­i­ent of two Best American Poetry Prizes, a Pushcart Prize, two fel­low­ships from The National Endowment for the Arts and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Widely anthol­o­gized, her work has appeared in the Best of APRThe Norton Anthology of Contemporary Poetry and The Best of the Net. She has been teach­ing poet­ry in pri­vate and pub­lic venues since 1990 and since 2004 at Pacific University’s Low-Residency MFA Program. In the sum­mers she teach­es at Tinhouse, the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California and Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill. Her poems have been wide­ly trans­lat­ed. Recent poems appear in The American Poetry ReviewCimarron ReviewCerise PressMargieOrionThe Seattle ReviewTin HouseThe Valparaiso Review and Poetry Everywhere, high­lights from The Dodge Poetry Festival. She and her hus­band, poet Joseph Millar, moved to Raleigh in 2008 where she teach­es poet­ry in the MFA pro­gram at North Carolina State University.