Third Grade Cafeteria

Cold green beans stiff

With the frost of plastic packaging

Are the only edible or recognizable

Food on the bright yellow trays.

Other trays shine green,

But they remind me of puke

Which does not help me

Keep my food down.

I set the tray clumsily down

And inspect the greasy cuisine

That makes up elementary school lunch.

They served us rubbery roast beef

Smothered in leathery gravy—

The Wednesday lunch special.

This is the type of meal

Where all of your side dishes run together

Your baked beans spill into your cream corn

Spill into your macaroni—

Until there’s no real discrepancy

Between your peach cobbler

Versus your mashed potatoes.

To drink, they have milk

Chocolate or vanilla, doesn’t matter

Because it’s all become cottage cheese by now.

We also offered Mountain Dew

Which incidentally tastes like

Caffeinated soap.

I poke my roast beef,

Confused at its wobbly nature.

Could it actually be chocolate pudding?

I suppose not based on

The corrugated folds of meat

That look like intestines

Which, by the way, is what I suspect

the beef is made out of.

I stare out at the lunch line

Where first graders queue quietly

With their index fingers placed over their lips.

And behind the sneeze glass I spot

These great hunkering beasts,

Sad creatures in scrubs and hairnets,

Operating the rusty ladles

In order to plunge into the muck

With methodical disinterest.

I wonder if these women

Ever, like me, aspired for more

Because I want to become

President of the United States.

Some of my friends, naturally,

Will become actors

Others will play professional football.

Astronauts, video game testers,

And ninjas—these are our dreams.

So I wonder if these women

Always wanted to become lunch ladies.

The kids screaming and shoving,

The constant stench of mystery meat,

The barfing, the barfing—blegh—

Not my dream, but someone’s

To have a hairy mole on their left cheek

To wear latex gloves and scoop slop.

I stir my cold green beans

And start to think of dodge ball

Of the loud slap of the rubber ball

Against the gym floor

These sort of things

Occupy a third grader’s mind,

And I forget about the lumbering ladies

Lurking behind the sneeze glass.


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