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Working in Flour


When I walked into the bakery at my usual time
asking politely for two marble cookies,
a fudgy chocolate drop rising from the chocolate swirls,
Ida Kaminsky, who came from strong Russian stock—
a hearty vegetable stew, spicy meats rolled in
cooked cabbage—winked and asked if I wanted a job.
She offered me two bucks an hour,
half off on the marble cookies, and anything
not sold at the end of the day might also be mine.
I put on an apron, pushed through
the swinging doors to help the bakers.
The smell of flour was thick
and tree pollen spotted the windows.
Tall and freckled, Max, the other assistant,
squeezed my hand, "I'll show you what to do."
He taught me how to use the cake decorator,
how to prepare the éclairs and put them in their doilies,
then pointed out the brooms and mops, the industrial
strength cleansers, the double sink
with rubber hoses coiled in it. "You don't want
paste to harden in the bowls."
From across the room, where he scooped chocolate chip
cookie batter onto a baking tray, Julius, the baker,
snapped, "Make sure you tell him: Everything
has to be spick-and-span." The flies heard him
and flew off the lip of the sink toward the light fixtures.
Soon I began sneezing, my hapless ahchoos
running down spotted walls, glistening
on my face and hands as I pumped the custard
through a nozzle into the delicate éclair rolls.
Later, when I worked on cleaning the floors,
Max yelled at me for spreading the dirt
in circles with my mop.
I stepped back, kicking over the bucket of lye.
All in a day's work, I thought.
The next morning, Ida Kaminsky cornered me,
"I liked you better as a customer."
I folded my apron neatly without arguing back
picked up my bag of cookies
and walked out into the bright spring air,
where now I understood my mother's comment,
"You're allergic to work" and where, for a moment,
I stopped sneezing.


Jeff Friedman

Working in Flour
Carnegie Mellon University Press


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