Jose at the Yum-Yum Café

by Fred Shaw

Jose stir-fries a blistering wok of Lo-Mein,
an illegal cooking this Szechuan dish for
sweat-shirted undergrads who slurp their noodles
through chopsticks while he works
over blue-flamed burners in a steamy kitchen,
the steady heat of gas stoves like a rippled
current of manual days and long labor.Over a joint at my girl’s apartment,
he will share his broken-English journey.
From a Costa Rican village to border crossing,
for a thousand dollars he was smuggled in the back
of aluminum U-hauls. Jose spent the brutal
Houston summers landscaping beneath
a heavy-handed sun, scrubbed dishes
in a hundred Chicago eateries, then came
to Pittsburgh’s gray shore of opportunity.
Maybe his America is now a cold-blooded
embrace or a soggy foot, maybe it’s a wink,
a paycheck under the table,
tenement rent deducted from a non-negotiable wage,
one nation united in its willingness to give him
a bite, if only it can take its own bite back.

Before I move to New Orleans, Jose asks my help
learning English. He wants to enroll in college.
My time short, I give him a book of poems,
Bukowski lifted from a bookstore in my baggy pants,
thinking that it will be a helpful and amusing
way to learn the syntax of broken promises
and understand a language of despair.

But he already understands
so perhaps the pages will collect dust and needless folds
among diasporas of Latin American dreams;
that he will prefer to salsa-dance on his rare
time off, maybe at the Cozumel on Tuesday nights,
with its specials on Cuervo and Corona,
and breathless partners spun into tops.


YumYumCafe_Shaw_Photo_lg-300x300Fred Shaw is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh’s Creative Writing Program (B.A.), and received his MFA from Carlow University where he currently teaches writing and literature. His work has appeared in 5AM Magazine, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Pittsburgh City Paper’s Chapter & Verse section, Carlow Journal, and at the online literary magazine, Shaking Like A Mountain, where he is currently poetry editor. He lives in Pittsburgh with his wife and dog, and hopes to someday see the Pirates have a winning season.

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