Poetics
by Jennifer Poteet

Desire and Inspiration at 2:40 a.m.

I can’t write anything, this cigarette poised 
like a fountain-tip, so I
try to get you to feed me
material, almost ask
you to write my 
poetry for me, dread
the commute tomorrow, know
work will be another 
dog and pony show, wish I could blow up
with hysterical pregnancy.

Blocked 
and now it is almost 3.
So, unmused,
we go to bed. 
Your hands, cool reams of paper, release
the lines;
I let the words in 
all at once:
a detonation. Your tongue, my pen.

Catering

I French serve until my hand cramps. 
I put on the obligatory smile,
my monkey suit pressed.
“Would you like more, sir?”
The beef—perfect, tender,
sliced on a rented platter
is rejected, sent back to the kitchen.
This family, new to money,
wants everything well done.

I try to anticipate every need,
and the host reaches out—
not for what’s being offered 
but for me,
laid out on the table,
hindquarters exposed.
I avoid his advances
with ballet-like moves, 
and gather half-eaten food and sticky, balled-up napkins.

Another man, two tables over, is without a date.
He asks me repeatedly for water.
I want to say to him,
“Hey, why don’t you start a fistfight,
so we can all clear out of here?”
Instead, I pour.

A gaggle of giggling girls
eye and judge me.
I take their plates.
The matriarch must be
a hundred pounds overweight, and is further burdened
by her beaded pantsuit.
She is impossible to maneuver past
as I heft a steaming tray of greasy chicken.

One bartender
working this gig 
is cool.
He slips me a cup of white wine
that I can masquerade as ginger ale.
Later on, I will give him
salmon in phyllo, pressed in a paper napkin,
rescued from the trash.
There is so much waste here.

It is rumored the family spent
half a million dollars on this party, 
one of the other tuxedoed women tells me
when we steal a delicious minute to smoke.
The flowers alone cost $70,000.

It is time to make the coffee,
pass desserts.
My body starts its familiar ache
between the shoulder blades.
Swollen in my shoes, I struggle not to slip
on the kitchen floor’s filthy patina. 

They don’t tip us. 
The hourly rate is precisely counted out 
into my palm. I loosen my bow tie
and walk out into the night.

Practical matters. Grocery list. 
I need cat litter, juice and eggs.
Rent is due.
I want to buy myself a beautiful, expensive dress 
and it’s a good thing the stores are closed.

  

©2000 Jennifer Poteet

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