Jean and Jules Work at the Queen of Peace Nursing Home

They never had more in common
in all their forty years.
Now they both take care of people
just a little older than themselves,
fry their eggs, wash their dishes.
My mother's wide peasant feet
tramp up and down that huge industrial kitchen
run by nuns. She is amazed
by her own power, the enormity
of the breakfasts she produces--
125 eggs cracked and fried
and stacks of pancakes towering over her.
She has to use a stool to reach
the shiny aluminum stove with its beaming burners.
My father's engineer's hands
slosh it up in the dishroom
once or twice a week where he
craftily slides plates
from soapy water to dryer
patiently explaining to his dishroom partner, Sonny,
there is a method.
On Christmas eve
they take us on a tour of the kitchen,
and introduce us to the nuns
who are stunned Jean and Jules
have such grown up children.
And then they introduce us to the old people
who fall asleep standing up
or drool staring at us.
It's a strange parade up and down
the antiseptic halls,
my mother leading, the brisk short walk
of a short woman determined not to finish last,
my father bringing up the rear,
the stern assertion
of a man who has triumphed.

:: Julia Lisella, in For a Living: The Poetry of Work

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