waitress poems

Thursday, June 23, 2005


As children, my sister and I watched our grandfather
grow senile. He would sniff the air
and ask if something was burning.
Our mother slapped us for laughing and said
he often remembered the factory fire
he'd witnessed at sixteen when he was
the youngest shoecoutter in the city.
I can still smell that flesh, that cooked meat,
he'd say, as we grimaced and pedalled away on our bikes.
After a while, he began to wake at night
thinking he heard those trapped workers,
but it always turned out to be a late driver,
tires moaning as the car turned a corner,
or a howling dog left out for the night.

None of us imagined my sister, the family beauty,
the one with the bright red laugh,
would be pulled into breakdown after breakdown
as an adult. No one predicted
she, too would sniff the air, conflagrations
more terrible than our grandfather's memories
searing the edges of her sleep.
Things seem okay for a year or two,
then she'll call, three thousand miles away,
the factory workers terror as it became clear
they would not escape the fire
cutting through the lines.

Each time it happens, I weep and shake
as if it were the first, but I'm never sure
if I cry for her, or just for the
ordinary days of our childhood, the sweaty closeness
of living in one city, in one house, that our family
has lost. As she stutters into the phone, I cry
for the day my mother gave me a perm
and I watched my sister's face like a mirror
as the curlers came out,
and for Sundays when all seven of us
climbed into the old Pontiac
and went for a ride. If things had gone well
for my father at work that week,
he would turn up the radio on the way home
and we'd all sing as loud as we could
while the orange sun spread out along the highway
like a distant and always benevolent fire.

first appeared in The American Poetry Review


  • just discovered your poems.
    thanks for all the beauty.

    jose luis
    shakespeare's not dead

    By Blogger ., at 6:21 AM  

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