Poetry Writing Contest XIII, First Place (2002)


“Why I Work” by Jeff Walt

I find poetry under every rock, in all the nooks and crannies of life- search for the dark and light of who we are, in what we assume to be terrestrial and mundane. When I feel at a loss for subject matter I simply look to the moment: where I am and what I am doing always has a poem in it. — Jeff Walt

Jeff Walt will receive $1,000, a certificate to mark the success, and publication both online and in print.

Why I Work

By Jeff Walt

Every day I tie on an apron, wrap the long,

white straps around my waist twice

to hold me there, tether me to eight hours

or more of pouring coffee. I sing the common,

everyday music of an urban café: “Iced grande

fat-free latte!” for seven dollars an hour.

I listen to co-workers’ problems: Jen frustrated

with the men in her life and Tim wondering if

he should move back to San Francisco. I shoo flies

from inside the pastry case, flip through the glossy

pages of my fantasies: skinny dip for a minute

in the warm waters of Hawaii, sip a margarita

on the beach, perplexed by how I’ll spend my millions.

I wonder, like the rest of the world, what I am doing

with my life. I am good to the customers, treat each

elderly woman like she’s my mother, pour a little kindness

into every espresso, give away scones to the homeless

when no one is looking. After work, I rush to the bed

for my lover’s eager touch, having stood on my feet all day,

both of us perfumed with the scents of our professions’

oil and coffee. She rubs her face into the arabica bean’s

rich, aromatic fragrance on my neck. We rest, exchange

a few stories: I tell her James bought a neon thong

on the internet and she says Steve and his wife are expecting

their fifth child, What’s one more! he joked, asked if we’d take it.

We enjoy our few hours in the evening, shower away

the grit of our common jobs: gasoline, triple cappuccinos,

mocha lattes, orange pumice hand cleaner, Sencha

and Wu Wei. We scrub off the day that has kept us

from each other, hours we’ll never get back; wring

the malaise of minimum wage from our souls.

My hands concentrate on the details of her body, find

a knot of pain and stay with it, knead the ache, rub

my entire body against hers as though there are layers

that I can strip away to reveal the bright soul beneath,

as though digging with the shovel of my body can scoop up

the root of longing to hold it there before me in plain view.

When the work of love is done, we lie dazzled

with a new smell melting over us, clock-out for the day,

punch life’s time-card into the machine of sleep,

having taken everything the body has to offer, joyfully used

by want. The scent of our love will lie with me like a child

through the night, wake when I wake, and the next morning,

when I stand sore and tired at the register, nodding

in agreement with my worst customer complaint of the day,

letting him be right, the scent of my lover will rise

from the heat of my T-shirt and remind me.


Jeff Walt - New Millennium Award for Poetry

Jeff Walt was born and raised in rural Pennsylvania among a community of railroad workers, brick layers, and stripminers. He’s been employed as a cowboy at Walt Disney World; gallery attendant; customer service trainer; a cook; masseur; barista; and as an adjunct English composition instructor at Honolulu Community College. He graduated from Goddard College in Vermont with his MFA in Writing and Literature. Jeff is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee and has placed in various national poetry contests. A passionate Aquarian and cinephile, he pops for decoupage, collage, salvaging, macrobiotic food, mixology, home exchange, and Mid-Century modern architecture.

Currently, he thrives in sunny San Diego as a Regional Editor and The Kowit Poetry Contest Coordinator for the San Diego Poetry Annual, which is part of the San Diego Arts & Entertainment Guild.


“Why I Work” © 2002 Jeff Walt

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