Liturgy for a Lunch Lady

Brant Short

Each day begins at 5 a.m. sharp, knife sharp when that alarm clock explodes
Breakfast served at 7, lunch at 11, clean up at 1, lock-up at 3
which makes for one long day with its unspoken unchanging rhythm
prep the food, cook the food, serve the food, and clean clean clean

Don’t call us cooks, or  chefs, or nutritional engineers
“Lunch Ladies” works fine for our crew, its our little joke
Some teachers treat us with silence, others consider us partners
in the daily ritual of inspiring hungry bodies and starving minds

Like outsiders in an organizational flow chart
we see truths that simmer below the surface of calm
we see lies that define the lives of the students we feed
We’re back porch ghosts looking through the kitchen window
and content seeing that our kids are warm and happy and well-fed

We pray for the quiet ones, the ones who always sit alone
We pray for the sad ones, who come from homes on fire with emotion
We pray for the transient ones, who come and go, moving back and forth
We pray for the lost ones, not sure why they go to school in the first place
We pray for our own loved ones who give us away each day to offer
sustenance, nutrition, and humanity to 247 elementary age yearlings
We pray for ourselves, for the energy to get up tomorrow at 5 a.m. sharp and
become God’s hands once again in cutting, baking, boiling, and setting the table

Author’s Commentary: Four elements combined to inspire this poem. First, my sister works in a grade school cafeteria and lovingly calls herself a “lunch lady.” Second, I volunteered in an elementary classroom for several years and saw the significant personal challenges that some second, third and fourth grade students face just coming to school. Third, I have always been aware that outsiders often see the world in ways that others miss. Fourth, my son introduced me to poetry as a form of social commentary with the power to challenge conventional thinking about daily life.

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Brant Short holds a Ph.D. from Indiana University and has been teaching courses in communication at Northern Arizona University for over 20 years.