Hot and Sour [poem] by Peter E. Murphy

I order the special from the lunch menu,
then scan the dining room for a dish
that will burn my tongue, take away my breath,
take me home, take care of me.

Stop dreaming, I tell myself, slurping my soup.
I had my eye on someone at work who wouldn’t notice
me if I didn’t make so many mistakes. He shook
his head, took up with someone else.

I chew my General Tso, bite a pepper, scorch
my mouth, screech, and dribble on my blouse.
Diners pause, stare, ignore, return to their Kung Po.
I hide behind my napkin, stained as sin.

My most intimate encounter was the guy
who rubbed against me on the subway.
I thought both, crap, this can’t be happening,
and I wonder if he’s married.

It’s time you invested in yourself, my fortune crumbles,
be prepared to overspend. Too late. I’ve maxed
out all my cards, foreclosed my hope. I get up to leave,
leave fifteen percent, gratuity’s lament.


Image of 1930s Switchboard Operator

Image by Images Money

Peter E. Murphy was born in Wales and grew up in New York City where he operated heavy equipment, managed a nightclub and drove a cab. He is the author of seven books and chapbooks including Stubborn Child, a finalist for the 2006 Paterson Poetry Prize. His recent essays and poems appear in The Common, Diode, Guernica, The Hawaii Pacific Review, The Lindenwood Review, Mead, The New Welsh Reader, Passager, Rattle and Rhino. He is the founder of Murphy Writing of Stockton University which includes the Winter Poetry & Prose Getaway and other programs for poets, writers and teachers in the U.S. and abroad.