Waiters Encourage Us, and Squirrels
by Jonathan Yungkans

scamper, hoarding orbs of broomcorn and sawtoothing sunflower seeds, shell
and greed much as nutrition. Is it really as unpretentious as our
scattered, food-stained napkins and latte-scented paper cups rolled onto

random recollections, washed with rainwater toward a kaleidoscope
plastic ocean, lethargic as pond scum in blockage. It’s like something
our parents may have told us, loud and long—“Clean up your room!” I bulldozed

what must’ve been a garbage yard’s worth of mess in the nether regions
deep underneath my bed so my mom would let me shop for a plastic
model car, as if the tide were calling me even then. Didn’t know

I was being so adult and millennial, a generation
or two before bright red, sky and navy blues and clear as no bell I
could imagine Glad Wrap to sound—all glittery and suffocating,

and all of it putting a toxic spin on the name Pacific, gulls
and whales stuffed tight with it. I’m thinking of the squirrels again, picking up
and devouring what feels like hours, as if anyone could taste

time. let alone starve from the lack of it. As if we could all be cooks
and eat our mistakes. Or John-Boy Walton on Night Gallery, clearing
away a rich-man’s feast like a good waiter, stealing every crumb home—

to find the meal laid before his deceased father, having to consume
all the moral refuge wrapped in spiced meats, bread, cakes—a generation
of trash like the stuff gone to sea, field and concrete. Maybe it’s the squirrels

and my obsessive neighbor who have the right idea. Collecting crimes
and missed demeanors like so many seeds. And seeds they are—weeds or vines
of aluminum, plastic, desiccated tree—or maybe bread crumbs

snowflaked onto white linen, removed with a whisk of a metal tool.

PAINTING: Magenta Squirrel by Robert Zakanitch (2004).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I leave seed in my yard for the birds and the neighborhood squirrels arrive for more than their fair share—more a service than a nuisance, since it leaves less for rodents to find after dark. When I read the line in John Ashbery’s poem “Musica Reservata” which became the title here, I remembered these daily antics. The neighbor mentioned in the poem suffers twofold—from obsessive-compulsive disorder and from caring so much about the trash people leave, which, living across the street from a college campus, is frequently considerable. My heart goes out to him. At the same time, I also think, more power to him. I should do so more myself.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jonathan Yungkans is a Los Angeles-based writer who was recently featured in The International Literary Quarterly‘s online anthology of California poets. His work has appeared in MacQueen’s Quinterly, Panoply, Synkroniciti and a number of other publications. His second poetry chapbook, Beneath a Glazed Shimmer, won the 2019 Clockwise Chapbook Prize and was published by Tebor Bach in 2021.