When We Were Dishwashers

Ron Elstad

I washed dishes With Лев & Игорь
Near the back door
And they taught me to say
‘Gimme a cigarette’ in Russian
and ‘до свидания’

And we pounded icebergs on cutting boards
And we ripped out the cores

Across the room there were giant, stainless steel pans
With breasts just exposed
Frying in pig lard

And in another place
It was the same thing
Another windowless room

And I embarrassed the other dishwasher
A black guy
With the Ghetto Boys
“Mind of a Lunatic”

They had me bus tables
And I spilled sour cream on a black dress
She gave me a hard time about it
And I walked out, mid-shift
Never went back

And in another place
On the night shift
My friend and I would each take trays of silverware &
See who could sort fastest
Grabbing forks first
While the knives cooled

Waitress would take my friend out to her car
During breaks
And because he was interested in photography
She’d show him pictures in Playboy
“Notice the nice photography here” she’d say

What do you learn washing dishes?
The knives cool last
Russians take a long time in the bathroom

But besides that
There’s a rhythm to the machine that you learn
You get used to the rhythm of the machine

March 2014

Previously published in
A Swineherd’s Journal

Art by Ron Elstad


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