Catering in Charleston

Catering in Charleston
-by Brian Quinn
Photograph by Charles E. Peterson, 1934
“Slave Quarters at the Hermitage plantation, Chatham County, Georgia”

         The Monthly Dinner Meeting of a Two-Hundred Year Old Fraternal Organization in a Two-Hundred Year Old Building

it’s fucking hot in this kitchen,
in my white chef’s coat,
across from the Battery,
in this new kitchen
(new in 1967):
still proud of it they are,
of the gas pump stove
and the clever venting
that works with the Federal
of this former slave’s pantry.

the creamed rice I’ve made, the
collard green sauerkraut,
the bacon jam
await the butter-browned shad roe,
while the society’s
newest members,
who’ve waited fifteen years to join,
(ten if you have legacy)
serve the mint
julep, the corn
bread and the honey
butter. tonight

in the dining hall

the great fireplace is never lit,
they pride at the untold layers
of shellac
slathered over the
centuries-dry wood,
muting some craftsman’s
hand-carved angels,
lions, flowers,
bloating their features
to something toy-like:
a child’s playset.

men, all.
facades, banisters and
grand, Roman columns
holding up
this ancient building.
plump and

         A Wedding at a Plantation

the iconic arches of magnolias
lining the dust-packed drive
(almost) obscure the small
houses set behind,
until those ancient trees
open to the massive front steps,
the hard, oaken doors of
the main house of the restored
but I came up the other drive, this one
newly paved,
leading to the ‘round back of the
servant’s entrance.
fences keep folks from actually comin’
‘round back because back here
they haven’t even bothered to
throw on a coat of white-wash:

the magnolia drive leads guests
to this weekend’s
wedding. or
i don’t even remember which
until the fog-horn-leg-horn
daddy of the bride, sweating through his
says to me,

boy, why,
why don’t ya head
on o’er to the bar thare
an’ fetch me a drank.

it’s not a question,
i’m wearing all white, you see
along with all the other decorations:
chairs, cooks, waiters, bartenders, bussers,

and if you can take your eyes
off the splendor of those
you can see the new coat of
whitewash on those small houses.


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