Much has been said about the commodification of women in the workplace, especially the service industry, but gauging its emotional toil is often an elusive undertaking. This brisk and biting poem reads like a witness statement — the case against the manager mounts with each “helpful” tip. What’s especially disturbing is how comfortable he feels dispensing his advice, unwittingly confirming that the chauvinist power structure remains in place, even as his own words turn against him. Lauren K. Alleyne has written a fitting poetic indictment of a man who is hoisted, to quote Hamlet, “with his own petard.” Selected by Rita Dove
The Manager’s Tips for Working at the San Francisco Restaurant and Bar
By Lauren K. Alleyne
New York, NY
He said to my breasts: you’re hired.
He said: you’re going to be in training for six weeks
and I don’t pay trainees. You work for tips.
He said: I’d show off my assets more
if I were you. He said, I’d turn on that million-dollar smile
no matter what kind of day you’re having.
He said, men drink more if they think you’re really listening
to them: lean in. Especially in the right dress. He said,
go on, Hector wants to dance with you. He said,
loosen up. He said, nobody likes a stuck up bartender.
He said, if anyone asks, it’s always best to be nineteen.
He said, if someone wants to buy you a drink, let them.
He said, watch Ruthie work, she knows the ropes —
look at her swing. (Her red hair crawls with a drunk man’s fingers.)
He said: Honey, I’ll give you a tip for free;
how this goes is entirely up to you.
Rita Dove is a Pulitzer Prize winner and a former poet laureate of the United States. She edited “The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry,” and her “Collected Poems: 1974-2004” was published in 2016. Lauren K. Alleyne is from the dual island nation of Trinidad and Tobago. She is the author of “Honeyfish” (New Issues Poetry & Prose, 2019) and an associate professor at James Madison University.
Illustration by R.O. Blechman