August 5, 2010

Ode to the lunch counter

In the basement of one of McGill’s ugliest buildings (1970s precast concrete slabs), there is a little-known lunch counter called the Burnside Snackbar. For a while, it was the best deal going on campus: $5.25 for a hot lunch with a side salad and choice of dressings. The price-jump to $6.72 over the past few years is probably the only instance of the financial crisis having a real impact on my life, so I suppose I shouldn’t complain. It’s still a good deal.

I like it because there is something old-fashioned about it. (I also like a good deal.) It’s lovely and simple to just walk up and say, “Hot lunch, please.” I love diners and dive bars and all those frozen-in-time kind of places, and not in an ironic way. (It’s exciting for me to know that Montreal has lots of these places I’ve yet to discover, outside of the developed downtown and gentrified Mile End.)

The construction workers on campus at any given time always get hip to the snackbar pretty quick, and there is a regular clientele within the building itself (Departments of Mathematics and Statistics, Geography and Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, and the McGill Media Relations Office and McGill Reporter). I wonder sometimes if I’m the only person hauling ass halfway across the campus for the privilege of enjoying a pre-selected menu in a windowless basement at the peak of summer. (There’s something about the Burnside basement I really like, or maybe it’s just the comfy chairs and tables and the general studiousness of the other people who go there.)

This time of year, of course, it’s nearly deserted. It’s wonderful. My new lunchtime routine is to go hang out there with a book of poetry. I’m still struggling with whether or not it’s a good thing, artistically, to dabble in other mediums, or if it’s ultimately just a waste of time that one should be spending on one's primary pursuit. I guess if it’s fun, then it might be an end in itself. E.g. one thing I really enjoy is playing and writing music, but I’m pretty terrible at it. (No false modesty here either – it’s wretched stuff.) Poetry, too, is not something I know much about. But I’ve decided that a meagre allotment of a couple of lunch hours a week to reading and writing poetry is something I can afford to indulge. I present the following for your amusement, with all the usual disclaimers, apologies to real poets, etc. etc.

All the Fixings

You learned this
rainbow as a child:
Red yellow green.
Bun blonde as a beach.

You should use up
all the mustard.
That’s what it’s there for.
Holding back a packet’s
last squeeze
won’t keep it
off your shirt.

At the heart of the sandwich
is the breast of a bird. Circling,
you cast it aside,
dishonour death. You
whose hunger is like the
struck gong
of new love, ringing through
every quaking limb.
Each pried apart
wing and thigh.

For you the ring of white and purple.
For you the pickle.
Everything in life that bites and tangs and
does not sustain,
but makes the maintenance
worth the long campaign.

And in case you're wondering: yes, there is a distinct possibility that every other unremarkable poem I write this way will also be about my lunch.


Samantha said...

Your poem's good! Up with food poetry! And I have always believed that it's only healthy for fiction writers to dabble in poetry from time to time, and vice versa - great opportunity to learn. I owe a lot of my writing development to poetry.

Jonathan Ball said...

I recommend FAKE MATH by Ryan Fitzpatrick (from Montreal's Snare Books). Great lunchtime poetry!

"The city's a chocolate chip cookie / once you've submitted your rank order, so / why bring up Snoop Dogg?"

Quoting from memory, so forgive any errors.

saleema said...

@Samantha Thanks! I think the cross-pollination between fiction and poetry is important, too! Even if we never quite find our way on the other side. The poets seem to have cornered all the cool vocab, for one thing.

@Jon Thanks for the rec! Will check it out.