Last September, my father-in-law, James McMichael and his wife Susan Davis, both poets and academics, visited us in our tiny rural Idaho town we now call home. My husband, a high school Language Arts teacher, arranged for them to give a Saturday afternoon poetry writing workshop to his students. I tagged along also, hoping to gain some valuable instruction from the sidelines of his classroom. The workshop ended up being wonderful to watch and seemed helpful to the students.
An old tattered spiral notebook of my deceased mother’s scribbled notes inspired the following poem. Reading her notes in her own unique handwriting gave me a similar comfort to the birthday cards and letters she mailed to me after I left home and couldn’t afford long distance phone calls.
Mother’s Day, May 11th will be the third anniversary of the day my mother died. The following poem is for my mother who worked in the school cafeteria for most of her adult life. Happy Mother’s Day to my mother and the other lunch ladies out there in small towns that dream about art, literature, and far off places.
The Lunch Lady
She spooned the applesauce as the children were lined up in tight formation clutching the hard plastic trays with their soft hands. She was thinking about Darcy O’Brien, James Dicky, Malcom Lowry, canaries, male, yellow, orange, how much?
Karen wore a blue denim jumpsuit and blouse with multi-colored flowers on it. She had a small scratch on her cheek from a stray yellow cat that followed her to school. In small towns, everyone knows everything about everyone, that’s just the way it is. The lunch lady carefully served the sloppy joes wearing floppy plastic gloves that were falling off her long slender hands. Tennesse Williams, the Collected Stories, Page 264, Paris Trout, Nop’s Trial, Ironweed along with a carton of milk with a plastic straw.
She liked Charles, the boy with light blonde hair, blue eyes, and a plaid shirt buttoned up to his chin. He reminded her of her oldest son so she gave him an extra fish stick without anyone seeing. Trees, honey locust, Cleveland Norway Maple, blue ash, ginkgo. She missed seeing the older children that had permission to go downtown for lunch.
Roy, was the mean boy that liked to pick on the other children. It wasn’t his fault, his dad worked at the sugar factory on the night shift and was never in a good mood. Ellen Glasgow, Kathy Acker, Eudora Welty, Sealyham Terriers, and cinnamon rolls.
She was happy to have a job in this small farming town. Pigs in a blanket, Adam Bede, and a woman called Moses. Thomas, the small boy, born with a cleft palette, smiled up at her. Thomas just like the lunch lady had big dreams to see the world and unlike the lunch lady, he eventually did.