These fingers have grasped ceramic and glass,

turning and scrubbing dishes and instruments

of consumption. These hands have been immersed

in hot and murky fetid water, working and toiling

until the night has worn down to the final minutes

when hours of work must be finished.

The grime and grease of more than thousands

of leftovers stained on dishes must be obliterated.

These callouses break and reform through bleach and detergent,

these fingers have grasped plates, bowls, glasses, mugs, pots, pans, and every kind of utensil

imagined, cast away food half eaten, not eaten, thrown away food dumped in plastic

bags mixed with poison, for those just one step below to dig through and savor.

These hands have contemplated searching for sustenance, and so the mind

wanders, spine slumped over, the dish washing machine compact and half-working.

These fingers have ended nights with desire for a cold clean glass,

while the hand rests upon a common grail and ponders whose hands it has passed

through and ponders more the covenant between each proletariat.

That each and every person mind their own, and drink and sometimes moan,

but never belabor too much the plight of pointless labor.

6 replies on “Plongeur”

The title itself is inspired by Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London, but the experience is not. It’s all an explicit symbol of the waste of our society. Whenever I go out to eat I eat it all and clean my plate.

My first job was a dishwasher at a banquet center when I was 15. I did it for about a year. Your poem captured the feeling perfectly. So much nasty unfinished food, so much scrubbing… it was madness, it would keep coming for hours and hours, until the early hours of the morning.. sometimes they let the staff have some of the leftovers from pans, of which I’ve forgotten the names of… the ones with the torches they put underneath to keep the food hot. When I get reliable transportation again, I won’t be applying for dish-washing jobs…

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