Colette Tennant, 12/23/2019
Current Occupation: Professor of English, Corban University, Salem, OR
Former Occupation: I worked in retail and as a waitress for years. Some of this poem is based on that.
Contact Information: Colette Tennant has two poetry collections: Commotion of Wings (2010) and Eden and After (2015), as well as the commentary Religion in the Handmaid’s Tale: a brief guide published by Fortress Press, September 2019. Her poem “Rehearsals” was awarded third by Billy Collins in the 2019 Fish Publishing International Writing Contest, and Eavan Boland just accepted a poem for Poetry Ireland Review. Otherwise, her poems have appeared in Rattle, Prairie Schooner, Southern Poetry Review, and others.
Teaching English at the Old Tuberculosis Hospital II
Our mailroom used to be the morgue.
All outgoing mail then –
tucked in crisp, white folds,
Elevators are deep enough
to hold gurneys.
In the periodical room,
faucets still protrude between bookshelves.
Here scalpels edged with tainted blood
clattered into gleaming pans.
One student’s grandmother died here –
probably in one of the old sleeping porches,
maybe the same room where we read about Jane
locked in the red chamber,
about Bertha and her love of fire.
The cafeteria now – the hospital proper then –
medicine counted out in rubber-topped droppers,
knives handled with care, small breaths
pressed against each heart.
By the stone steps, the cherry tree –
old enough to remember it all –
covers new grass with white petals,
snow in the wrong season.
Bob Evans Sausage Restaurant Mid-70s
Okay, so our red white and blue menus
included no calorie counts
for anything back then –
not for the salty slabs of Virginia-cured hams,
not for the sausage dinners, pork patties
bigger than the kitchen cook’s hands,
served with a pile of home fries
and biscuits and honey
and a salad slathered in dressing.
And then for dessert – there were thick slices
of sugar cream pie made with a secret recipe
from Bob’s hillbilly aunt who lived
along the river in Monroe County.
Smoking was allowed.
We had a smoking section,
but that was a joke
since the whole front of the restaurant
was one big room anyway.
And it was years before anyone
even heard of Chai Tea,
so we served Pepsi and Diet Pepsi
and Mountain Dew and coffee
with real cream and real sugar.
No one asked for a latte –
no one had even heard the word
People talked to each other then,
looked at each other across the table.
In Brooklyn, we had coffee shops. The waitress would come by and take the order. If there was not enough creme in the creamer, we would go to any empty table and take their creamer. Grab extra napkins too. Oh Brooklyn, nobody cared. If there was not enough jam for our muffins, we would sneak around and find more. A danish was always split…too pricey.
We left a modest tip and paid the cashier on the way out. Everybody seemed okay with OUR WICKED WAYS.