Hans Ostrom (1954 / California)
For Cafeteria Workers
The task of cafeterias is to feed large
numbers of people quickly. They are
not so different, then, from farms and
ranches, except the clientele is often
less polite than cattle, horses, and pigs.
Back there in the kitchen, they get it
done, the workers: Soup for thousands,
noodles for hundreds, protein and starch-
all timed to be there when the herd arrives
with bad moods and lots of opinions.
The dishroom is a symphony of clash,
a humidity of food-smell, steam, and sweat,
a silver cacaphony. The conveyor-belt's
the boss. Each tray brings a catastrophe.
The automatic dishwasher-a tunnel of water
and soap-disgorges disinfected implements
eaters will soon stuff in their mouths again.
The pot-washer is a lonely figure. Once I was
he. Heaps of stainless steel arise, food welded
to metal, grease smeared on every plane. Alone,
you work your way through the mountain 'til
nothing's left but you, your soaked shirt, and
clocking-out. Out front, the servers smile.
They remember names and endure whiners
and would-be gourmands. Runners fill machines
that distribute fizz and syrup. Cashiers stand on
weary feet and process armies packing trays,
hunger, haste, and attitude. Bless the cafeteria
workers, who are better than we deserve.
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