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).