Christopher Bakken

White Zinfandel
October 22, 2022 Bakken Christopher

White Zinfandel


Again last night I dreamed the dream called Waiter.
Not the one where I arrive to give a poetry reading
but have forgotten to bring any books, so am told
just improvise (we have a patient audience tonight),
or in more hellish versions, improvise while accompanied
by a harp. No—in the dream called Waiter, I am
the only waiter, and thus the only chump in khaki pants
and a sea-blue polo emblazoned with a schooner.


The restaurant quickly fills with people whose thirst
for white zinfandel can never be sated, not even by death.
In the dream called Waiter (I should have mentioned)
it is forever 1988, and Table 11 is calling for more bread.
Table 11 wants to order. Table 11 wants another little cup
of that delicious drawn butter. And when I come to Table 11,
a smudged napkin wilting on my forearm, and finally land
their overcooked steaks, they move like a pack of feral dogs
circling a freshly-shampooed dachshund and a kitten.


But in the dream called Waiter, I neglect the other tables,
whose numbers begin at one, and stretch beyond eleven,
at least as far as Milwaukee—do you see how hungry they are? —
so many we will run out of white zinfandel soon.
The hostess is nervous at her nautical pulpit: a tarnished copper
binnacle (a word the dream remembers) and ship’s compass.


Hot plates are piling up on the line, but first I must fetch
ranch dressing from the walk-in cooler (Table 11), and the journey
through the kitchen is very long, the really dreamy part
of the dream called Waiter, since back there in the Dionysian
crannies of the restaurant’s brain, beautiful waitresses
are snorting cocaine off the corners of patrons’ credit cards,
and the kid who washes dishes is slurping up the scallops
Table 11 sent back (but more white zin please),
and the manager is giving all the chefs raises, just joking,
since he heard two of them dropped acid before peeling shrimp
this afternoon—and have you ever peeled shrimp on acid?
Now that’s a job as fascinating as fascinating gets—but I am a waiter
in the dream called Waiter, the only one, and instead of peeling shrimp
or getting ranch, I go outside with Jake to help with the garbage,
which means smoke weed from a carrot he carved for that purpose,
and then I am striding away from the restaurant completely, past
the apartment buildings stacked up like plates up along the lake,
and looking for my car, which I parked somewhere around here,
when Ashley the aerobics teacher walks up, who I have wanted
to kiss (apparently) since 1988, and who is suddenly willing,
and like so many dream-kisses it is both delicious and disconcerting,
never quite over, just trailing off in some slobbery way, like Ashley,
who has suddenly fled, but at least now I am able to fly,
wheeling above the cul-de-sacs in ways that feel quite natural,
just the merest paddling, sailing the warm currents above Middleton,
Wisconsin, with its cut grass and lake algae smells, and spying
—thanks to all the flying—my lost car (a 1967 Pontiac Star Chief
with a license plate that reads YUMMY), and getting in,
and wondering where I left my keys, which means in the dream
called Waiter, remembering I am a waiter, remembering
Table 11 and their implacable thirst, not to mention all those
lozenges of broiled cod and pucks of meat waiting for me,
—some poor guy with an empty briefcase, going everywhere
and nowhere, in this dream and the other dream called Poetry,
knowing the ship’s wheel never actually spins on its nail
above the top shelf of the bar, and as in some restaurants
and in most dreams, the compass at the door is only decorative.

Christopher Bakken is the author of three books of poetry, most recently Eternity & Oranges, as well as the culinary memoir Honey, Olives, Octopus. He is director of Writing Workshops in Greece and he teaches at Allegheny College.


photo credit: Konstantinos Papadopoulos