Waitresses took the dirty dishes
when the meal was over and
scraped the remnants into
white five-gallon buckets of
fermenting half-eaten food-waste
and placed those containers
next to garbage bags piled high
in an obscene altar to Filth that
we employees called the Slop Room.
Summer heat aided decomposition
while the humidity made the
resulting stench heavy
He was a hands-on manager
so as terrifying as it was to hear
We have to clean this room
at least he didn’t just say you.
We carried every trash bag and
each sloshing, dripping bucket outside
then he doused the room with Clorox
like an arsonist dispensing gasoline
and I squirted dish soap
in blue squiggles across the
putrid blackened cement of the floor.
We took push brooms and
worked the mixture into a lather
(even though the label on the bleach
specifically warns of toxic fumes)
and stayed in the unventilated room
until our lungs wheezed and rattled
forcing us into the fresh air
hacking foul phlegm
then went back inside for more.
Finally, the garden hose spray
chased poisonous run-off
over the rusted threshold
and through the parking lot
to be absorbed by the neighbor’s yard.
We put everything back inside
content with a job well done
disgusted but proud.
reading a newspaper article
I learned that mixing those chemicals
and standing in that dingy room
exposed me to a homemade version of