2014 Susan Alexander
Susan Alexander’s poetry and reviews have appeared or are upcoming in CV2, Grain, Room and Crux and in the anthology, This Island, We Celebrate (BIAC, 2013). She lives on Bowen Island, B.C.
This poem first appeared in Grain, Vol. 40.4, Summer 2013.
It was a fast food joint on Highway 3
where it turned into Main Street.
Picnic tables in the breezeway, Creedence
screaming up around the bend on the jukebox.
No drive through windows like today.
People had to park, get out of their cars.
My father was boss, shape-shifted
from grease monkey in his own garage
to short order cook. Short temper cook
more like it. Hotter than burgers sizzling
on the grill. Hotter than chips in the deep fat fryer.
Him and his shout and his bottomless rum
and coke just inside the cooler door.
Scariest thing for me was making
chicken dinners when he was crazy
busy and the grill was packed. I’d crank
up the flames under the pressure cooker
in the back, drop thighs, legs, breasts,
wings, into popping foam then twist
the metal top on tight as I could.
Timing was critical and I was racing
up front with customers at windows,
making change with fingers burnt
from bagging burgers. Milkshakes
whizzed on metal sticks while I erected
dazzling ziggurats of soft ice cream cones.
All the time at the back the pressure
built. Always I expected the explosion.
My father’s holler. Flying metal, boiling oil.
Fast food shrapnel. Casualties.
When the cooker’s valves got flipped up,
they screamed like murder, smeared the air
with steam and grease. I served up impossible
crispy gold in a cardboard container.
For years I wore burn scars
on the soft insides of forearms.
They are faded now, almost gone.
So is my father.
Summer never gets that hot anymore.