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Jim Daniels

Jim Daniels is the author of numerous collections of poetry, most recently The Middle Ages (Red Mountain Press, 2018) and Street Calligraphy (Steel Toe Books, 2017). His third collection, Places/Everyone (University of Wisconsin Press, 1985), won the inaugural Brittingham Prize in Poetry in 1985. He lives in Pittsburgh and is the Thomas Stockham University Professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University.

By This Poet

2

Strip

She danced in front of the window, 
snowflakes glowing behind her 
under the streetlight. The blue silk blouse
slipped off her arms and floated out of sight. 
Black slacks into a shadow, then 
the quick shiver, the beautiful awkward gesture 
into nakedness. Her skin startled me--
luminous or pale, depending. We didn't know

each other well, but it was my turn,
so I raised my arms above my head 
and tried to shake. We both wanted to know 
something about somebody. My clothes 
piled beneath me in a clump.

The striptease didn't do much 
for either of us, but by then
we were chilled and fell against 
each other's skin.

Snow under streetlights landed
layer upon layer.
            We fell forward, 
then fell apart against the sheets, 
cold again, and wet. She whispered 
in my ear, and I pulled the blankets 
up over us. I knew her name, 
so I whispered that.

Short-Order Cook

An average joe comes in
and orders thirty cheeseburgers and thirty fries.

I wait for him to pay before I start cooking.
He pays.
He ain't no average joe.

The grill is just big enough for ten rows of three.
I slap the burgers down
throw two buckets of fries in the deep frier
and they pop pop, spit spit. . .
pssss. . .
The counter girls laugh.
I concentrate.
It is the crucial point--
they are ready for the cheese:
my fingers shake as I tear off slices
toss them on the burgers/fries done/dump/
refill buckets/burgers ready/flip into buns/
beat that melting cheese/wrap burgers in plastic/
into paper bags/fried done/dump/fill thirty bags/
bring them to the counter/wipe sweat on sleeve
and smile at the counter girls.
I puff my chest out and bellow:
Thirty cheeseburgers! Thirty fries!
I grab a handful of ice, toss it in my mouth
do a little dance and walk back to the grill.
Pressure, responsibility, success.
Thirty cheeseburgers, thirty fries.