we called them, the women who stood behind
the cafeteria counters
and dished it out: fish sticks, undocumented meat, soup.
War widows, then wives of the war-wounded,
then the women
who worked in war industries,
of whom my mother was one,
got first dibs on these jobs.
It wasn’t a law, my father said, it just was.
My father was deferred
for reasons of agriculture.
During another war, I too was deferred,
for reasons other than agriculture.
Though short-listed for Soup Teacher,
my mother took another job
that better suited her soft
and sonorous voice: she was the one,
when you picked up the phone,
who said: Number, please.
She lost that work when dials came in.
Her voice was sweet
but she couldn’t sing
so she used it less and less
(my father was mostly deaf)
until she never spoke three syllables
in a row again.