2nd Place Poetry Winner: SOFT OPENING - Cassie Burkhardt

Updated: Mar 22

Snapping his fingers

at the steaming cutlery before me

the restaurant manager says,

Dry this,

one piece at a time

until I can see my reflection.

A man with a ponytail and everything to lose,

all day he’s tuned up the credit card machine

until Amex Black whipped through it

like a Lamborghini.

Opening night, July fourth weekend in the Hamptons.

We tighten our aprons.

One of the bartenders, Ludo,

tugs at my apron knot in passing, Ça va toi?

My spine goes electric.

The smell of cut lime

lingers around my waist.


The bartenders are all chiseled men

in their thirties, francophone and bussed-in

from Manhattan for the season:

Brice and Seb, Henri, Ludo, Saïdou.

Sleeves rolled up, their triceps look edible,

their syllables voluptuous in dim lighting.

What they want is their own bar, a motorcycle,

to make snow angels in cash come Labor Day,

disappear into the corners of Asia,

but also something else…

as Ludo palms a lime, rolls it slowly

along the cutting board, winks at me,

whispers to Seb,

thrusts the cash register closed, then

smacks a shaker open all at the same time-

fills two glasses

with glistening margaritas.


At dusk we light the votives. They flicker

like jewels on the white tablecloths,

fire to shadow. Music starts with a lounge-lit

beat, a bass that ignites.

The bar glows orange, Ludo tells a joke and

ten women erupt in laughter, bubbling

over like a sauce I want to taste.

My section is next to the bar,

the section for walk-ins and those who only want

dessert, the beginner section, I’m 17,

young as my hair is long, live around the corner

with my parents, wear this summer job

like I wear a bikini,

hiding nothing that I want.

I lean over to straighten a fork,

every tiny muscle in my body

poised in action and waiting.

I catch Ludo eyeing me again

and a current ripples through me.


He shakes another round of margaritas,

motions me over

to his secret glass-

and as I walk over, I realize

all I want now

is to be that shaker,

sweating

and about to be opened.

 

Cassie Burkhardt

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