Dorianne Laux

What I Wouldn't Do

The only job I didn’t like, quit


after the first shift, was selling


subscriptions to TV Guide over the phone.


Before that it was fast food, all


the onion rings I could eat, handing


sacks of deep fried burritos through


the sliding window, the hungry hands


grabbing back. And at the Laundromat,

plucking bright coins from a palm


or pressing them into one, kids


screaming from the bathroom and twenty


dryers on high. Cleaning houses was fine,

polishing the knick-knacks of the rich.


I liked holding the hand-blown glass bell


from Czechoslovakia up to the light,


the jeweled clapper swinging lazily


from side to side, its foreign,


A-minor ping. I drifted, an itinerant,

from job to job, the sanatorium


where I pureed peas and carrots


and stringy beets, scooped them,


like pudding, onto flesh-colored


plastic plates, or the gas station


where I dipped the ten-foot measuring stick


into the hole in the blacktop,
pulled it up hand

over hand
into the twilight, dripping


its liquid gold, pink-tinged.


I liked the donut shop best, 3 AM,

alone in the kitchen, surrounded


by sugar and squat mounds of dough,


the flashing neon sign strung from wire


behind the window, gilding my white uniform


yellow, then blue, then drop-dead red.


It wasn’t that I hated calling them, hour


after hour, stuck in a booth with a list


of strangers’ names, dialing their numbers


with the eraser end of a pencil and them


saying hello. It was that moment


of expectation, before I answered back,


the sound of their held breath,


their disappointment when they realized


I wasn’t who they thought I was,

the familiar voice, or the voice they loved


and had been waiting all day to hear.

 

© Dorianne Laux, from What We Carry (BOA Editions Limited, 1994).