28 April 2009

Some Waitresses I Have Known

She was a steamed pudding,
a dumpling,
a moist soft pastry with a shining face and
greasy fingers
ladling huge ladles of noodle soup,
of cabbage and potatoes,
of boiled pork and
the dark spikes of her dark dark hair
escaped from under her white white cotton cap
plastered to her skin with sweat and by steam,
followed the lines of her face, of her cheeks and
if there was ever such a thing possible
as a communist Madonna
in a white cotton apron and
revealed to us all through clouds of kitchen steam
from the communal soup kettle,
she would be one of those.

I’d sit at the dark end of the cantina
for the last hour of the evening
waiting for her to get off work
so I could drive us to her house and
I watched her steal from the drunks and
the flirts when they weren’t looking by
slipping their money off the table and
by adding my drinks to their tabs and
by altering their credit card receipts to reflect
surprising generosity, an acute appreciation
of her skills as a cocktail temptress.

On more than many more than one occasion
as we sat in my car in the parking lot and
waited for the engine to warm up,
for the heater to kick in,
she would fan her cash
in front of my face and
it was usually a lot and
she would ask me "What did you make today?" and
she knew I hadn’t made anything.

I once watched her chase a bad tipper
into the parking lot and
fling the silver he’d left her
like it was dirt to bounce off his car windows,
his mouth a frightened circle and moist,
some quarters and a dime on an $80 tab
scattered in the dust and pea-sized gravel,
dull gray in mercury-vapor lamplight.

She was a giantess among Japanese
and she was therefore obliged to buy kimono at the special gaijin kimono store and pay those special gaijin prices
but she was a natural blond.
At the bottle club in the Roppongi district where she worked,
near the Hard Rock Tokyo where she never went,
somewhere east of the enormous television screen on the side of the enormous building that showed the endless loop of dolphins swimming and leaping between
an emerald tropical sea and a turquoise tropical sky,
somewhere down there on a side street above a restaurant where it always rained or at least dripped from the innumerable gray clouds in the city’s gray sky and the innumerable drips and leaks and overflows from all the surrounding buildings,
somewhere where the streets were still to narrow for automobiles,
she would pause in the tidal ebb of the unending flood of very small people with a limitless number of umbrellas
and she would try to remember how to count.

The sound of the interstate is like a river,
white noise constant with its own rise and fall,
waves or rapids or the surge from a sudden downpour
of diesel washing a steady flow of trucks ahead and forward and past this empty crossroads with the 200-ft. sign
and from the backdoor facing south with the sun setting like it always does on the right and the first stars of another night like always on the left,
she’ll smoke another More down to its filter,
the clatter of thick dishes being washed and
a jukebox version of another hit song behind her and
she’ll look south across an unimpeded plain of soybeans and cotton, of oil pumps and feedlots full of stumbling cattle,
a perfectly flat plain spreading out and away from all highway diners and all the way to Mexico,
just another place she’s never been.

Born a slave, she always served,
was so highly trained, so closely educated
as to preclude even the capacity to conceive of any life
other than service and
she was bred to beauty, to a certain proportion and
scale as to bring pleasure to her masters' eyes and
sometimes to their beds though
for the longest and the most number of days in the short years of her chattel-life she was ignored as a machine or an animal is ignored,
as a device or as one among identical many
is taken for granted.

But what her masters never saw or felt
was the small clear burning of her hatred
nor did they know that
what she brought them when she served them
at their table and at their bath,
whether on her belly or on her knees,
what she gave them was poison, always poison.

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