Coal City Review Press: Fast-Food Sonnets
A 2017 Kansas Notable Book
"Reflecting on his own experience in the industry, his poems offer by turns compassionate, cutting and humorous insights into human resilience amid often callously dehumanizing conditions. His poems are a highly articulate witness and tribute to the ultimate triumph of human worth and dignity."
--Rev. Tobias J.H. Schlingensiepen
Brian Daldorph, editor
Cover art by Aldrick Scott
Closing the Store on Summer Nights
The closing hour turns to cleaning, turns to
leaving at two in the morning, as night
employees stretch out on the grass, beside
their parked cars, as the automatic lights
shut off, like they are told to do, commands
given by the manager. Each body
turns to the stars, each wish to find a way
out of this job. The hands that touched burgers,
that wrapped wrappers and fixed cold drinks now smell
of grease and French fries, now dig to replace
these gross scents with grass and flower petals,
fingers pushing deeper into the earth.
With thanks to the following editors:
Brian Daldorph of Coal City Review:
"Working Drive-Thru," "Small fry," “Closing the store on summer nights,” “Buddy,” “T-Bone,” and “To Charlie Brown”
Amy Fleury of Inscape:
Matt Porubsky of seveneightfive:
“Cleaning the Flat Grill,” “Being fired,” and “from the index to the Manager's Manual”
Mickey Cesar and Katie Longofono of Blue Island Review:
“Burning in the Lake of Fryer,” “Dressing the cheeseburger buns,” and “Waste”
Katie Longofono and Mary Stone of Blue Island Review:
“Birdy the Early Bird” and “Grimace”
Kevin Rabas of Flint Hills Review:
“Camouflage” and “Toying”
"Instead of relying upon a small, stable, well-paid, and well-trained workforce, the fast food industry seeks out part-time, unskilled workers who are willing to accept low pay. Teenagers have been the perfect candidates for these jobs, not only because they are less expensive to hire than adults, but also because their youthful inexperience makes them easier to control."
—from Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser
"Fast-Food Sonnets. At first this oxymoronic title stymied me, but Dennis Etzel, Jr’s mix of pop culture and high Italian Renaissance is spot on. Etzel’s verse is not strict sonnets, but each packs maximum emotion into spare lines. He tells about poverty-level coming of age through initiation at the local hamburger joint. A manager tells a new employee “to wear her hair up, be ready to serve.” This ending line is a chilling indictment of the class system, gender roles, and servitude. This book is an important satire for the 21st century. It also is a perfect blend of drama and passion."
--Denise Low, Kansas Poet Laureate 2007-09 and author of Mélange Block
"Oh, how I wish Dennis Etzel Jr.'s Fast-Food Sonnets would have been issued to me along with my blue uniform and visor back when I, too, was in the McArmy. I might have been aware of the beauty and breaking all around me as I fried and scooped and salted. But what a pleasure, so many years later, to remember life on that side of the counter. For anyone who has ever been there, or for anyone in danger of forgetting that a person in a uniform is a person, Etzel's poems are compassionate and thoughtful reminders. Plus he cracks me up."
--Laura Moriarty, The Chaperone
"In these well-crafted poems, Dennis Etzel, Jr. lays bare the truths known by those who’ve labored in the fast-food industry. He deftly illustrates what tolls the turbo delivery of food exacts from young people— for whom it is often first employment. Those smiling faces, who query “May I help you,” hold back the question “Will you help me?” Each poem leaves the reader more aware that the cost of fast-food does not include what has been paid in misery."
--Annette Billings, Descants for a Daughter
"Teen Dennis turns the microscope on working a Fast Food Job: its absurdities, its drudgeries, its injustices. In doing so he reveals something at the heart of our Supersize culture: a loss of heart, a loss of connection with what we eat. Unofficial referee of this world, the poet reveals what's wrong, what must change, and like cutting a hole in a saguaro, Dennis cuts into the prickly trauma of his teen, fast-food-worker life, and brings forth water, spirit, healing."
--Kevin Rabas, Songs for My Father