Saturday Poem: The Paper Signs

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From the aqua vinyl booths

with touch table lamps to a motif

of clown collectibles, this restaurant

is kitsch and family relic in a franchised age.


Swinging wood doors

open into a kitchen

where paper signs remind us

of our status

as tipped employees.


Tacked on bulletin boards

like theses, they read:

“No whining.

No smoking.

No reading the paper.

Keep your mouths shut

and do work.

Do not watch cooks.

Clean uniforms.

Coats downstairs.

Park in the upper lot.

If you don’t

like rules, go down the road.”


We bitch and grumble

when the boss posts

another missive.

Then we fold squares

of wine-colored cloth

into napkins and stack

them in boxes like useful origami

creased by unacknowledged masters.

— Fred Shaw

Fred Shaw worked at Carmody’s Restaurant (the inspiration for this poem) from 2001 to 2008. He now teaches at Point Park University and Carlow University. His work has appeared in 5AM, Mason’s Road, Pittsburgh City Paper and Shaking Magazine and will be published in upcoming issues of Poet Lore and SLAB. He lives in Ross.

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