Poetry / September 2012 (Issue 18)

A Smoke Break at the Nuclear Command

by Koon Woon

We multitask chop, grill, wok, and pickle. They are fickle, can come at all hours, drunk, after sex, before meetings; hucksters, gangsters, no telling who wants what stir-fried,
steamed rock cod with its head and bulbous eyes.

My father at the meat block hacks spareribs, carves bone from chicken, minces onions. Six sons chow the mein, French-fry the sausage,
whip the gravy, beat the eggs until you can fool the young into thinking it’s sperm yanked from a calf.
Smoke signals say the pork chops are burnt,
the white sauce turning yellow, while the waitresses ladle soup. Sounds like feeding at the zoo.
Chopsticks tingle from a corner booth.

On and on motors start and stop, doors open and shut, ice water is
set down as menus are tossed. You need a minute? Mom is helping the girls to wash glasses and tea pots. It would be sinful to run out of hot mustard during the rush. My father drinks my coffee and I smoke his Marlboro,
two cowboys in a cattle drive fending off rustlers, and damn! The waitress says that the women's toilet has overflowed!

We're going to go fishing as soon as our mental breakdowns are over with. And we’re going to take a smoke break from the nuclear command.
Just then, a party of 12 comes in – well, put two tables together,
like a man joining a woman, the yin and the yang, or kids with yo-yo's.
We are a family doing family business, money for school books, Mom’s dentures.
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