Down the alleyway we’d speed
On our American Flyer bikes,
Spitting stones in our wakes
As we dug down the pedals.
Dropping them sideways
In green tufts of grass
Off the ash-strewn alley,
Breathless we’d head
Toward the half-open door
Of the black wooden shanty
To peer around the corner
Into the steamy depths where
The short squat old woman stood
Beside the steel cauldron in which
Slivers of freshly sliced raw potatoes
Boiled in bubbling fat.
The thin old man would bring
Armfuls of peeled potatoes,
Dump them into the shoe-box sized
Shredder that spit the slices out
Into the bubbling grease.
He’d sweep the wooden floor,
She’d stir the floating chips
With a wooden paddle.
When they were cooked to a crisp
He’d skim them off with a long-handled strainer,
Shuck them out into a screened box
To let the excess fat drain off,
Then shake the sharp salt on top,
Scoop them into open-mouthed
Waxed paper bags, and without a word
Hand them to you for a nickel.
The old woman mopped the sweat
From her red full face,
Flesh from her upper arms
Trembling as it swung from the bone,
Her ankles swollen with fluid
That I later learned had a name:
Pitting edema, doctors called it,
Sign of kidney disease, heart failure.
We had no thoughts of death
When we were boys,
Neither that of the old woman
Or the old man, nor even that
Of ourselves. Young as we were
In those summer days we only dreamt
Of salted crisp potato chips
Still warm from the frier on our tender tongues.
2011 © Brian T. Maurer