Short-Order Cook

Short-Order Cook
By Jim Daniels

An average joe comes in
and orders thirty cheeseburgers and thirty fries.

I wait for him to pay before I start cooking.
He pays.
He ain’t no average joe.

The grill is just big enough for ten rows of three.
I slap the burgers down
throw two buckets of fries in the deep frier
and they pop pop, spit spit. . .
pssss. . .
The counter girls laugh.
I concentrate.
It is the crucial point–
they are ready for the cheese:
my fingers shake as I tear off slices
toss them on the burgers/fries done/dump/
refill buckets/burgers ready/flip into buns/
beat that melting cheese/wrap burgers in plastic/
into paper bags/fries done/dump/fill thirty bags/
bring them to the counter/wipe sweat on sleeve
and smile at the counter girls.
I puff my chest out and bellow:
Thirty cheeseburgers! Thirty fries!
I grab a handful of ice, toss it in my mouth
do a little dance and walk back to the grill.
Pressure, responsibility, success.
Thirty cheeseburgers, thirty fries.

About the Poem

This poem is pretty straightforward. I was trying to come up with something to post and thought I’d check out poems about cooking. Most of the poems I read were mostly nonsense, the type of poems that the title claims are about one thing, and while it may start out following what you expect from the title, it just goes off into leftfield. This was not that type of poem. “Short-Order Cook” is a pretty straightforward poem. There may be a deeper meaning, but sometimes, I just enjoy a poem for what it actually says instead of trying to figure out all of the subtext, metaphors, form, cadence, etc. This one, I just liked it for its simplicity. 

Poetry can mean so much, but at the heart of it, the question is: do you like it? If the answer is no, then it’s the wrong poem for you. If the answer is yes, then savor the words, just as you’d savor one of these burgers made by a short-order cook. We all know the greasy spoons have the best hamburgers, and if you don’t, go out and find one. If you don’t know what a greasy spoon is, it’s a small, cheap restaurant – either an American diner or coffee shop – typically specializing in fried foods.

About the Poet

Jim Daniels is the author of numerous collections of poetry, most recently The Middle Ages (Red Mountain Press, 2018) and Street Calligraphy (Steel Toe Books, 2017). His third collection, Places/Everyone (University of Wisconsin Press, 1985), won the inaugural Brittingham Prize in Poetry in 1985. He lives in Pittsburgh and is the Thomas Stockham University Professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University.

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

Thank you for commenting. I always want to know what you have to say. However, I have a few rules: 1. Always be kind and considerate to others. 2. Do not degrade other people's way of thinking. 3. I have the right to refuse or remove any comment I deem inappropriate. 4. If you comment on a post that was published over 14 days ago, it will not post immediately. Those comments are set for moderation. If it doesn't break the above rules, it will post.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: