Poetry / Jon Tribble
:: Risen ::
Because on Friday we filled the metal tomb of the walk-in refrigerator with the bodies and blood of hundreds of birds flightless and naked in their waxed heavy cardboard sarcophagi, resting on a sea of melting ice. Because on Saturday every corner of each wire shelf crowded with slaw, potato salad, three- and baked beans, and the sweet parfaits gleaming in their plastic cups, and the walls of spongy rolls and mountain of flour sacks and herbs-and-spices mix and the rest of the dry goods waited for the cock’s crow. Because come Sunday morning our sunrise service on the year’s second-busiest day— not quite honoring mothers but better than giving thanks on the third day—, our gleaming start in the shining stainless and spotless squeaky floor and untouched waiting counters shattered with a first popping and steaming metal chariot transporting the twenty golden birds fried together at once in the great machine of pressure, grease, and elements of remarkable heat swayed, wavered, and suddenly crashed down when a shaky wheel found an open drain left uncovered the night before during the last cleansing wash as someone hosed away a long day’s leavings, and now, like a horse might stumble when a hoof sinks in a rabbit hole, this weight headed earthward, uncertain ground and gravity too much to overcome and what should have been safe in ready warmers scattered in a scorching slick mess. Because the front doors would not be open for another hour, we knelt down, gathered back together each tray and every part of the collateral chickens from the scene of the accident, nested the trays back in their crib of metal, and we returned them to their searing bath for two quick minutes, knowing the machine’s heat could purify, knowing resurrection may be real but came with the price of faith and filtering the hot oil, knowing these breasts and legs and wings and thighs would disappear before anyone would have a chance to testify to the truth.
:: In the Hall of the Mountain King ::
The grease wore me like a golem-child,
cousin raised from clay, blood, and sweat
melting all night to a puddle for morning.
Sixteen-hour summer shifts pressure frying
cemeteries’ worth of bird for the Colonel
closed each day near midnight with steam-
hoses then a joint or two blazing beneath
the empty parking lot’s bug-crowned lights.
At home in the basement cave I’d helped
build separate from bumper pool and foosball,
I locked my flimsy door, stripped off the red-
and-white-striped shirt, pried free steel-toe
boots, peeled away sodden jeans and socks
and shorts from my fish-white puckered flesh.
I tasted bleach in my dreams. But I was wired
every night, nailed between deep fatigue
and adrenaline like the pine two-by-fours
and wallboard that slapped up this refuge.
Sometimes turkey dope and whiskey
cut behind the edge of tension our family doctor
prescribed useless Soma for, then Quaaludes
that friends on the bus crushed up to snort
on the long ride over to Horace Mann Jr. High
all spring. But these summertime seventy-hour
weeks cashed in overtime and nothing else.
Then one morning I remembered the Great Bøyg
and Song of Norway, a forgettable film I’d seen
with my grandmother almost eight years before,
and I went out, bought Grieg’s incidental music
for Peer Gynt. She had died that April and I
felt like death, felt like a buried child lost
under a mountain, and this troll-song, this
unlikely lullaby, bassoons and cellos, stillness
and stuttering forward, the frenzied rising
to timpani rumble and cymbal explosions
excavated my mind from its stone tomb.
From the writer
:: Account ::
Poetry about work has always fascinated me as a reader, whether the work is recognized in the larger cultural and historical ways like in Walt Whitman’s “A Song for Occupations,” Carl Sandburg’s “Chicago,” Sterling Brown’s “Strong Men,” Philip Levine’s “They Feed They Lion,” or Ruth Stone’s “Eden, Then and Now”; or the poems explore the intimate ways work can shape our relationships with others or our environment or our sense of self like Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays,” Elizabeth Bishop’s “Filling Station,” Gary Soto’s “Self-Inquiry Before the Job Interview,” or Rita Dove’s “Daystar.”
I hope the poems “Risen” and “In the Hall of the Mountain King” are able to touch on some of the ways the fast food industry shapes the individuals clocking in and doing the work, and that each poem speaks to the broader issues of the cost of such labor for a society that has seen these “entry-level” jobs become the only available work for so many people.
Both of my poems revisit the sense memory that still is so much of the experience I carried with me from the years I worked frying chicken and doing the tasks that came with the job. “Risen” takes a little different approach from “In the Hall of the Mountain King” by playing with some of the conventions of religious liturgy while considering the humor and unpleasantness in a narrative of the events one particular Easter Sunday, while the poem “In the Hall of the Mountain King” tries to dig down to the essence of the experience of day after night after day of the work itself, the larger-than-life weariness and despair of the job weighed against the way the individual is left feeling so small, tired, and helpless. I do hope both poems, which are part of a series of poems about this fast food work, give their readers some new insights about the price someone pays for the things we have come to expect as cheap and easily available to us at drive-thrus and counters not only in America but now in cities and towns all over the world.
Jon Tribble’s poems have appeared in the anthologies The Jazz Poetry Anthology and Surreal South, in the print magazines Crazyhorse, Poetry, Ploughshares, Quarterly West, and South Dakota Review, and online at A Poetry Congeries (June 2013) from Connotation Press: An Online Artifact. He teaches at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, where he is the managing editor of Crab Orchard Review and the series editor of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry published by SIU Press.