by Parker Sterling

And then there was the job off Southwest Freeway
pushing lap dances, and Jell-O shooters.
My tray orbiting above, I’d do the astroglide 
across a room of ties and toupees. On stage,
Rosario, Marta, Kit, or Jamie wrapped 
a pole and climbed as Liz and Nikki 
dropped the needle, the bass, and the sweet talk
while the rest of us girls waited for the drinks
and the sloppy-drunk spending to kick in.

And then the prep work at the Galleria eatery, 
the French-Dutch-restaurateur-slash-kitchen-dominatrix 
slicing, whisking, gutting, mincing as quickly 
as her swollen, menopausal fingers let her, cutting the help 
back, and down — the latest batch — with just as much celerity.
The more-than-slightly sauced sous chef 
flambéing a chocolate-dipped cigarette over a gas burner 
then laughing before unleashing a foot-long knife 
on the stuffed, contorted chicken-effigy of the owner.

And then there was the carpet cleaning job
and the city-wide rides from Fifth Ward to Katy, Sugar Land, 
Bellaire, Willowbrook, my third-job boss driving, 
smoking, drinking all the way, twitching on the inhale 
and bitching on the exhale, one crooked finger hooked 
on a Styrofoam cup full of cold black coffee stain-stuck 
to the van’s sun-faded and fissuring dashboard.
Inside the labyrinth of the vast spatial palatial 
three-story-one-income house of someone born 
with “a golden horseshoe up his ass,” 
we’re tasked with sexing the kilim’s sides free 
of the Irish Wolfhound’s willful dander, and coaxing 
the tipsy houseguest’s cabernet calamity loose
from Mrs. V’s $22,000 tightly woven rug. 

In the air on Continental 226, my body is locked 
into an upright position. With just enough money 
to meet a friend back home, I am leaving Houston 
and all my jobs. 
My finger touches the framed sky above what is,
now was, a momentary isthmus.