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Poetry That Helps Us See: Short-Order Cook

'Peterborough Diner 2' photo (c) 2010, liz west - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/


As a fan of poetry, I often wish I had the writing talent of a poet. I admire how poets can bring readers into the world of their subjects, without the excess of prose, straight to the heart of a story, issue, or perspective with one perfect line of description.

At Bread for the World, we are constantly wondering how we can evoke the imaginations of people who might not fully understand the danger that some people on the brink of poverty experience daily. That's why we share stories of people we meet along the way who have been there -- people who have fought tooth and nail to scrape together enough money to buy some food for themselves and their kids.

With that in mind, I thought I'd go out on a limb here and share this poem with you called "Short-Order Cook," by Jim Daniels. It depicts a short-order cook at a diner, but speaks to the daily fight some of us go through to overcome great obstacles.

Take some time to read the poem, and share your own favorite poem in the comments section below.

Short-Order Cook
Jim Daniels (b. 1956)

An average joe comes in
and orders thirty cheeseburgers and thirty fries.

I wait for him to pay before I start cooking.
He pays.
He ain't no average joe.

The grill is just big enough for ten rows of three.
I slap the burgers down
throw two buckets of fries in the deep frier
and they pop pop spit spit . . .
pss . . .

The counter girls laugh.
I concentrate.
It is the crucial point—
they are ready for the cheese:
my fingers shake as I tear off slices
toss them on the burgers/fries done/dump/
refill buckets/burgers ready/flip into buns/
beat that melting cheese/wrap burgers in plastic/
into paper bags/fries done/dump/fill thirty bags/
bring them to the counter/wipe sweat on sleeve
and smile at the counter girls.
I puff my chest out and bellow:
"Thirty cheeseburgers, thirty fries!"
They look at me funny.
I grab a handful of ice, toss it in my mouth
do a little dance and walk back to the grill.
Pressure, responsibility, success,
thirty cheeseburgers, thirty fries.

Jeannie-choiJeannie Choi is associate editor at Bread for the World.

 

 

 

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