Put a fan on it, because that’s how we parch
what spills here, caged metal blades
carving the air, blowing loose scraps
into crumb-lined corners.
A recipe for disaster is what we call this place,
built on fried zucchini and foot-size
fish sandwiches, its brown kitchen tiles
iced tea-slick. Septuagenarian,
Soup Bone moves bear-hunched
and bowlegged, surveying his dining room
with its walls decked in gimcrack,
tables ringed with those teal leather chairs
our aging regulars love, his red tie swinging
from a starched shirt steeped in woodsy cologne.
He greets everyone by name before chirping,
kick it back now, good buddy,
sometimes glad-handing blue hairs
with best wishes on their birthday dinner,
sometimes offering a scoop of rainbow sherbet
when hot food gets served cold.
Other days, he’ll dub us shammers,
the word hissing from his nose after finding
ashtrays full of butts and a soak’s rocks glass
swimming with water.
Yet, for the rest of our restaurant lives,
he’ll remain that minor chord reminding us
to stay busy before the sugar high
of another lunch rush fades, summoning us
to run warm plates topped with strip steaks
and steamed veggies, the grouch in his voice
at odds with a strings-version of “Blackbird”
leaking from the ceiling’s speakers,
leaving us to feel like we’re someplace
close to home when he barks,
let’s hustle, the only answer
to all it is we ever need to do.
Fred Shaw was named Emerging Poet Laureate Finalist of Allegheny County in 2020. He is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and Carlow University, where he received his MFA. He teaches writing and literature at Point Park University and Carlow University. His first collection, Scraping Away, was recently published by CavanKerry Press. A book reviewer and poetry editor for Pittsburgh Quarterly, his poem “Argot” is featured in the 2018 full-length documentary Eating & Working & Eating & Working. The film focuses on the lives of local service-industry workers. His poem “Scraping Away” was selected by the Pennsylvania Public Poetry Project in 2017. He lives in Pittsburgh with his wife and rescued hound dog.