Mudlark Flash No. 58 (2010)

Janlori Goldman

Washing Dishes in Evergreen, Colorado

Bernie holds the chopping knife, tip up, glares at Billie. 
             She’s come to the kitchen to ask him to leave the cheese
                          off a burger. It’s not her fault. She put the order in right, 
but the customer changed his mind. Billie’s waited on tables
             at the Little Bear since her family stopped ranching, her face 
                          and hands like smoked snakeskin after years of cigarettes 
and  wiping counters. By shift’s end, peanut shells crushed 
             to dust coat her ankles.
                                                         Bernie holds out a package of Tareytons, 
follows it with a light, but in a flash he smashes the dishwasher 
             door when he finds a greasy plate in the stack. That’d be my fault. 
                          I’m in charge of dishes. I clear tables, haul the clanking mess 
to the back, a quick rinse before loading the aluminum box.  
             Unloading is divine — lifting the door at cycle’s end, a rush
                          of wet heat, the smell of ammonia and boil. In that thick
steam, Bernie’s snapped shirt, oily beard, and bottom lip, 
             bulged with chew, diffuse. Always the sound of burgers
                          on the grill, the hard slicing of onions.
                                                                                                 Billie keeps an eye 
on me so I don’t sneak into the bar. I eat nuts, piles of pepperoni, 
             wait for Bernie to offer a cigarette. I’d rather fight than switch, 
                          we say, as I slide one out of the carton. The people in the ads 
wear a black eye — they reveal a bruise as proof that a puff 
             is worth a slug. 
                                          The year before, a boy choked me, ripped my heart 
necklace off,  threw it across the junior high lawn. Mom said, see? 
             You can’t be trusted with anything good. He was older, jealous 
                          of the crush I had on the altar boy who sat in front of me in home-
room. I’d stare at his shiny black hair, imagine kissing his neck 
             where the hair stopped even, kneeled in a pew to see him in white 
                          robe, swing incense. Lots of things I wanted were worth getting 
slugged for.
                       I almost got punched at Sena’s Family Inn, the other place I did dishes. 
It wasn’t run by a real family, but folks liked to believe an Italian lady labored over 
             the ziti while her daughter baked semolina. The register came up short one day. 
                          No one called me thief, but they acted like I was to blame. I may have 
taken those twenties. It’s hard to remember what I did and what people thought I did.  
             Stealing was easy: a paisley dress, white bikini worn under my clothes,
                          an Almond Joy. I got caught for the dress 
                                                                                                        but that’s another story.
The day I lost my job at Sena’s my mom and her boyfriend came 
             to the side door, said they were driving back to New York. Did
                          I know she was leaving, or was I surprised? But here I was at work.
The car, packed with her clothes, idled. She stood on the steps, not entering 
             the lunch-rush kitchen. Take care of the boys, she said. I’ll write soon. 
                          She needed to go save her life. I turned, picked up a tray of hot glasses 
fresh from the washer. The whole rack slipped, shattered. I can still feel 
             the heat on my palms, the weight slide from my fingers. 
                                                                                                                    You’re fired. 
I was wearing my favorite shirt, the one that made me look free — Indian cotton 
             embroidered on the front, tassels at the neck. On the street I looked 
                          for her blue Skylark. By then, they must’ve made it to the freeway.

End Of the World

                                 (for Ilya Kaminsky)
Caved and constipated, a bear lies on muck, 
hair fused with mud; trees are iced in sleep, 
relieved of urgent sap. Everything needs rest.

When this world ends, need will evaporate 
in a blink — gone the cycles of knowing, 
going on and not going on, fucking and no 
more, gone even the moment when we can smell 

the obsolescence  of breath. The delight 
of apocalypse is that it comes to all in the same 
second; daughters will not be orphans, mothers not 
childless, the fur of life will merge with frozen

ground, the blossom with its droop. About the end: 
we’ll go as one, spared of that gap in mid-air 
when we know our plane is going down. 

Janlori Goldman received an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. Her poems have appeared in The Cortland Review, The Mom Egg, For the Crowns of Your Heads: Poems for Haiti, and are forthcoming in The Sow’s Ear and Calyx, A Journal of Art and Literature by Women. She teaches at Columbia University’s School of Publc Health and lives in New York City with her daughter and sweetheart. 

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