It takes the table girl a week to learn the route:
The patient spray of table tops, the swirl of cloth
The food to scrap and dishes on the belt become
Her world—students at their complicated books
Are of another life—but in six months
A year or less, she’ll have their manners down:
A little splash of color to her polyester dress
A flick of wrist or hair, a lipstick smear and
She’ll be more like one of them than any of them dates.
This is the state solution—employing her kind
Here among the population who decides
The number of any kind a society can abide.
We are the learned few, the two or three
Who make the rules, who read the books
That tell us how humane we’ve made this life:
The charity of how we grow polite enough
To pin the handicapped to our routines.
The table girl keeps thirty tables clean
And speaks only to the boy who works the dishes
From conveyer belt to sink, who elevates and leaves
Her hopeful as her dyed blonde hair.
But her face will not grow beyond its flat despair
And I believe I’ve fathomed all of this alone as dishes
Slip across the belt’s rubber sheet, until one day
I place humanity beside my Goodwill stare and ask:
How goes your day? She says: “Monday, Clive dropped
The baby on its head—things ain’t been the same since.
Birds seem louder—the stream is down to a trickle.
I ’spect we’ll bury the baby tomorrow.” My cup falls over.
She clatter-bangs more dishes on the belt.