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,

carefully enveloped.

 

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

macchiato.

 

People talked to each other then,

looked at each other across the table.

One comment on “Colette Tennant, 12/23/2019
  1. Joan McNerney says:

    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.

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