by Jennifer Poteet

    I French serve until my hand cramps.
    I put on the obligatory smile,
    pressed in my monkey suit.
    "Would you like more, sir?"  
    The beef--perfect, tender,
    sliced on a rented platter
    is rejected, sent back to the kitchen.
    This family, new to money,
    wants everything well done.

    I try to anticipate every need,
    and the host reaches out--
    not for what's being offered
    but for me,
    laid out on the table,
    hindquarters exposed.
    I avoid his advances
    with ballet-like moves,
    and gather half-eaten food and sticky, balled-up napkins.

    Another man, two tables over, is without a date.
    He asks me repeatedly for water.
    I want to say to him,
    "Hey, why don't you start a fistfight,
    so we can all clear out of here?"
    Instead, I pour.

    A gaggle of giggling girls
    eye and judge me.
    I take their plates.
    The matriarch must be
    a hundred pounds overweight, and is further burdened
    by her beaded pantsuit.
    She is impossible to maneuver past
    as I heft a steaming tray of greasy chicken.

    One bartender
    working this gig
    is cool.
    He slips me a cup of white wine
    that I masquerade as ginger ale.
    Later on, I will give him
    salmon in phyllo
    tucked inside a paper napkin,
    rescued from the trash.
    There is so much waste.

    It is rumored the family spent
    half a million dollars on this party,
    one of the other tuxedoed women tells me
    when we steal a delicious minute to smoke.
    The flowers alone cost $70,000.

    It is time to make the coffee,
    pass desserts.
    My body starts its familiar ache
    between the shoulder blades.
    Swollen in my shoes, I struggle not to slip
    on the kitchen floor's filthy patina.  

    They don't tip us.  
    The hourly rate is precisely counted out  
    into my palm.  I loosen my bow tie
    and walk out into the night.

    Practical matters. Grocery list.
    I need cat litter, juice and eggs.
    I want to buy myself a beautiful, expensive dress
    and it's a good thing the stores are closed.

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