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Fred Shaw: Comfort

— In memory of Nigel Paga

Without warning, the busboy died
in his bed after school, the genes of his heart
finished ticking toward failure.
And for guiding him through the world

of service, his stepfather will bless me
in Devlin’s plush parlor, among the sweet-smelling
sprays of lilies and mums as I wait
for my turn to kneel before the open casket,

framing its body in repose, listening
to the murmurs of others searching for answers
after finding none in the prayer cards
or small talk which follows.

It’ll take months, and a slow dinner shift,
to get me thinking again of that awkward
shaggy boy, mocked for his smell, and the way
he’d puppy dog one patient waitress.

His name, still listed on the wall-bound
schedule, greets me as weekly comfort,
reminding me of those down-times
when we’d talk film, Scorsese, his favorite.

Looking to widen the lens, I burned him
copies of Pickpocket and Yojimbo, adding
a few sets of techno I hoped he’d hear
like a soundtrack. But tonight, finding

a stack of discs marked in my scrawl
after redding the server’s side stand, I’m left
unsure of what to do with worthless things
gathering in corners, like the memory

of finding that young man having
his first smoke with the dishwashers, telling lies
and wearing greasy shoes, their laughter
sprinkling the ground after every flick of ash.

Copyright 2023 Fred Shaw

Fred Shaw is a poet, writer and teacher, as well as the book review editor for Pittsburgh Quarterly. His poetry collections include Scraping Away (CavanKerry, 2020).


9 comments on “Fred Shaw: Comfort

  1. Matt
    February 26, 2023

    Brings back memories of working at Market Square Inn , as a teenager . I washed dishes by hand. No dish machine. My brother was Chef. High standards. 4 courses. The bus staff was amazing. We took our smoke breaks together.
    End of night …. Tables set for next day … work done
    Out come the j’s , a round on the house… like family Christmas Eve as the dim light of the pastry kitchen glints off the stemware
    Dire Straits pounding out Sultans of Swing


    • Vox Populi
      February 26, 2023

      Thanks, Matt. Sounds like you need to write about the experience.



  2. Lisa Zimmerman
    February 24, 2023



  3. Robert Walicki
    February 23, 2023

    Nice poem, Fred!


  4. Dinah Kudatsky
    February 21, 2023

    Others see leftovers, scraps, garbage to be tossed. This poet, Fred Shaw, saw everything important – small precious evidence of a life – the crush at work, the love of film, the misfitness and the cameraderie, the life not finished, not ready to be carted away like used dishes.


  5. Loranneke
    February 21, 2023

    Such a perfect portrait of someone I would hav never known about. How poetry can do that — introduce us to people we love — instantly.


    • Vox Populi
      February 21, 2023

      Fred writes beautifully about the people who are almost invisible. The servers, busboys, and dishwashers…



  6. vermavkv
    February 21, 2023

    Nice write-up.


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This entry was posted on February 21, 2023 by in Opinion Leaders, Poetry, Social Justice and tagged , , , , , , .

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