Words from the home front - poems by Jenny Wrangbord

Jenny Wrangbord is a catering worker in Norway. These poems were translated by Freke Räihä. Hotel workers are encouraged to submit their own contributions and stories.

The world's most important job

in the mornings
when we carry the chairs out to the open-air seating
we can see the Avenue awaking

the tram-rattling echoes between the six-story buildings at
the take-away and
we allow ourselves for a moment
to forget the stress behind the counter
in the morning light it still feels unrealistic

the sun up pushing itself behind the houses
carries the day over the sky, slowly slowly
the sanitation workers sweeping the streets from
yesterday's drinking brawl and we smile at each other

those moments we do not want to be
anything but café assistants
we have the world's most important job
ensuring that others get a good start to the day
the smile is not a part of the uniform
it is our own

the sound in the locker room
is different in the evening
it feels like we have been locked up
that kind of elation in the air when
we put on our own clothes and
become human again

when we throw our uniforms in the laundry
on our way out of the kitchen I think
that which should make us human
has turned us into machines
The Coffeemaker

She stood with tears in the kitchen, coffee under her nails and the fatigue,
tiredness in a body that could not manage any more right now.

She said that now she did not wanna be a part of this any more, now they would
have to find someone else who could work a whole day without
going to the bathroom.

Someone who could face the contempt with infinite patience,
that if they wanted a machine they could buy a regular coffee maker.

Her fist was clutched around the cake slicer with suddenly so sharp edges
that she recoiled when she saw her own gaze in the cutting machine blade.

Someone had called her lazy and rude, asked her to work faster,
it was like watching a machine jarring under pressure, just that there were no
spare parts, they would simply have to buy a new one now that the old one
was worn out.

A coffee maker of the latest model:
quiet, fast and easy to clean.
The black eye

She was the strongest of women; mother of two, waitress,
won everyone's respect with her skills with the drunks in the bar.

She filled in the extra hours when others left the apron on the counter and
asked the boss to go to hell. Was there when people were hospitalized,
attended funerals, fled the authorities.

She was divorced and struggled with pick ups, exchanges, day shift, night shift,
overtime and restraining orders.

When she came to work with a black eye and the manager got to see
her battered face, he said that she should not bring her problems to work.

He could not have her working when she looked like that and if it happened again
she was not welcome back.

we seldom talked about the differences,
between us and the owner
between us and the guests
between us and those higher up

nor did any one else, certainly not the boss
she would not have seen the inequalities
even if someone told her
that it was there

her privilege of not noticing
became our swear words
behind her back

the greatest weariness
does not come from manual labour
the bottle trays lifted up narrow aisles
muscles screaming of the burden
during impossible balancing acts
with the dishes through the café

it is not the steam from the ovens
the dull knives
or the slippery floors that hurts the most

the labour does not consist of
cooking the food or serving the guests

no, it is the
manager's words
after weeks of unpaid overtime

the gazes
from the affluent

and countless smiles
that hide the fact
that there is no hope that
we will ever
meet as equals
Those who fight must go

when the site manager has gone home they turn to me
“What you said about the breaks, is that true?”

they say it quietly, almost whispering
trying the words as if they had never been spoken before
hiding the CBA underneath the delivery slips when
someone suddenly shouts from the café

it is Sweden 1918
it is Sweden 2012

no victories are yet won