The Oldest Lunchroom Lady

Has a big smile even though she’s missing

Part of a tooth. Takes tickets as fast

As Aunt Betty shells butter beans.


So fast it’s hard to tell who is reduced

Or free. She wanted to teach school,

But her daddy died during the Depression.


She got a job in the cafeteria and helps

With three Vacation Bible Schools.

Mother has her read to her first-graders


During rest time. She always reads two books.

First a short one for the sleepers. Then a longer

one without as many pictures.  When she takes


A ticket, sometimes she squeezes your hand,

Even if you are a sixth or seventh grader.

Says over and over: Mind yourself, child.
In paperback edition of Opening the Mouth of the Dead

Published in Southern Poetry Review