Owen Sheers
Imagine a theatre, mid-morning, back stage.
Wardrobe are ironing the costumes, a chippy checks a flat
and out front a lone Hoover hums around the table legs
picking up what's left of last night.

This is what it's like.

Boxes left at the door,
the cockles came at two, the oysters at four.

The tables are given skirts
like girls at a prom dress fitting.
Tucked in,
ready to start again.

The Sommelier spits
a boxer's mouthful of red,
lays down the glass
and picks another,
holds it to the light
like a carver,
turning his work in the sun.

Back in the kitchen,
9 am and prep begins.
No longer the off stage corridors of a theatre,
but now a submarine.
Radio on and ten working in here,
at their stations -
Hot starters
Crossing and re-crossing each other
with the knowledge of lover,
instinctive as matadors, tipping their hips
from the thumb-horns of a carried tray,
a bucket,
a slab of pink salted pork
being taken out back
to be bagged and hung in the water bath
like a regular Houdini.

Outside it's an autumn morning,
clean air, a yellow leaf falling,
a fag, deeply drawn,
last night's rain drying on the flagstones.
But no time to linger here ...

So back through the swing door,
into the kitchen's hot breath,
where a sea bass, lifted from its cool box
where it's been stored all night, upright
just as it would swim,
is laid out, opened with one score of the knife
and its bones unstitched with a plyers
until its flesh reads nothing,
a pink blank page
waiting for nothing
but heat and the tongue.
Behind this a witch's cauldron of onion puree
pops and spits like a New Zealand mud pit,
as 30 duck hams, hung for a week
are parcelled and tied like presents for the tree.

And so it goes:

Salmon piled high like the deckle-edged leaves
of a medieval manuscript.
Oysters shucked and given passion fruit yolks.
Book marks of mackerel, powdered, blown down their seams,
rolled into tigered ballotines.

In pastry the cups are laid out,
a pence pieces to weigh them down
like coins on the eyes of the dead.
The hot sugar work gets underway;
silicon mat, plastic pin, the tuile mix
rolled flat to see-through sheets.
Heat up,
meat glue brushed,
fish cubed and cut
all the way to 11.30
and clean down.

A canvas white-washed,
ready to start again.
The waiters slip into gold waistcoats,
move about the tables
like sharks through coral reef.

Radio off.

12.45 - the first cover is in.
The ticket machine pokes out its white tongue
which is torn at the root and hung
like a photograph drying in the dark room.


The submarine dives, dives
and the woven walking begins, again.

Two lamb done - you can go on those!'
Out front a suit unfurls a napkin
over the globe of his stomach,
a sail tacking tight above his belt,
already on the last notch.

The waiter presents a bottle
like a new-born baby.
'Four oysters away!'

Out back the scallops are pinched,
cockles flame open.

'How long on the chicken?'

The chef stands at the door
performing final checks,
an author, copy-editing the text,
while out front, a father and son take their place.
He's young, fragile, pale,
hair neatly parted as a book open at the centre page.
His father takes a water
his son, a flute of champagne,
one stream of bubbles threading its core,
delicate and finely strung as their conversation.

So, what's the story here?

No one can know for sure,
except that there will be one.

A young chef, got his first job?
A graduate from college?
An army recruit?
A jockey? First race won?

'Done! You can go on that one!'

And the stories go the other way too.
Look at those oysters,
just a few hours ago they were shifting
on the ocean floor,
until a solitary Scottish diver came,
swaying in the night time North Sea
like an idea in a simple giant's mind,
to pick them, and carry them
up through the heavy water
and out into the air,
to here, presented on a plate,
white as snow, smooth as marble
hard as bone.

And so it goes,
until the last cover leaves
and the submarine slows
and the waiters shed their gold,
take a fag outside.

The kitchen is wiped down again,
the cases of food stored.
The washer's sprayer pours,
the tables are stripped
and the Sommelier goes back to his bottles,
picks a long stemmed glass and lifts it to his nose,
a dart player, weighing his arrow,
a gardener scenting his rose.