Dish Pit Poems

by Travis Baka


Washing dishes requires physical presence creates mental absence. Within your circumscribed bounds / actions acquire a crude automation. Humans make an imperfect system out of self.

At its base the labor of the Pit is robotic action of invertebrate. Let your fingers run across plates and bowls as squadrons of termites scraping away / with the aid of soap and steam / and precision of mine shafts / your work begins. As it ever was. The cadence of the dishes lilts the same / day to day / the ringing of an invert bell beckons them back.

The Pit is standing water / the beginning and end. Mouth and tail of the food service’s Ouroboros Worm. An ocean in three parts. Soap / rinse / sanitize. Hot / cold / hot. Frankly intestinal. Every shift transforms clean Cambrian to fouled by consumption.  Dishes are trapped in a turning cycle. Are you?

Sprayer like stamen curving and bouncing above petals of water. Its color and motion attracts the flies. They breed in compost bins and trash cans. Building families lives / condominiums. Cities stuffed under the stairs. You never get to see generations of flies pass. You do / in a sense peeled from its context.

Just like the dishes.


A steady amount of the same thing. You can’t see the fly eggs taking up too little space in the cities of scraps / porcelain warren. The dead are washed away. The living buzz with you.

60hz hum / one state is an illusion. The lights turn on off sixty times a second. The lights are on / lights are / off / Flies are alive flies are dead. Dishes are clean dishes are dirty. One state of constant living and constant dying. Lights are on moon is out. It makes no difference / There is only one fly repeated sixty times a second.

A plant hangs in the Pit / suspended above the ocean in three parts. Alive and green it shares your fate. To never see the sun. / We wrote Dish God on its pot. An idol in our own image. Desiccated chlorophyll absorbs fluorescents. The best gods are crafted from necessity. Dish God is not best. Washing dishes is necessity / that degrades into futility. Sisyphus rolls a plate up a mountain.


They end as they began clean / dirty / dirty / clean. Every action brings equal reaction. Dishes clean / water dirty. Porcelain grows bright and new. You turn gray / hands prematurely old.  

A life lived at 60hz from beginning to end every day. The lights turn on and off sixty times a second. They / You appear continuous to the observer.  / Your skin / molts / softens turning pink as a newborn then sears / puckers. From birth to old age in the space of a shift.

When you come into the Pit they are already waiting for you. Patient lovers dozing beneath comforters of poorly calibrated gas jets / night sweats. Pots coated in film as in corners of sleeping eyes. Tuck them under your arm. My how you’ve grown you may murmur / this is false / the pots and pans are as they have ever been. The task is the same.


The act of dishing is rote. First fill the ocean / hot spring / steam bath. Second gather your wayward flock. Pots and pans corralled and cradled. Third with your pilgrims assembled pile by shape and await.

Reintroduction to water / resurrection / reanimation is hefty work.  It starts in your feet aching flat as frying pans. Creeps through creaking knees. Spine hunches vertebrae sinking like broccoli drifting down in soap / standing in the river doing good works. Full body immersion of believers in their baptismal whites. Your hands dry out as they soak / nails soften / bend against the ceramics.

When you wash your hands of a job well done turning off the lights at the end of the night / flies are still there. Tomorrow the dishes will be there again. The same dishes in the same order.  Washing dishes is a single process in three steps / rinse / soak / scrub / the Worm bites its tail and the dishes are dirty again. Sisyphus’ plates rolls down the mountain.

Pit people slowly turn shades of dingy. Palms and finger fibrous roots absorbing dishwater / murk replacing melanin.  / Sometimes it’s a glass eyed fugue / glass eyed fugue / windowless flickering light. The dishes repeat. The steps repeat. You repeat. There’s only one fly living and dying sixty times a second.


Repetition and predictability breed safety as garbage breeds bugs. The labor is the same the dishes are the same and you can take that to the bank. You can take the job to the bank but that’s no investment / in significance. Not in the sense we are taught. They say / follow your passion / and only in an economic sense. Find the work you love and make some $$$ that mean something. No one tells you

you can’t invest $$$ in meaning / just getting paid isn’t enough. Cash cheapens the task. Admit it we’re all thinking it. Dish God asks us a question we answer only too rarely. What is the balance of labor?  / Washing dishes occupies the body but lets the mind dream. Balance is precious. The scales may tilt and place all their weight on the mind / which sags with less grace than the shoulders.

Staring at spread sheets / studying abstraction. It seeps into your attention like dishwater through the holes in old sneakers and wicked into socks. Your labor bleeds into your dreams / This is a moment of honesty.  i don’t want to dream of capitalized interest rates and corporate ladders.

Give me the Pit. Give me days when you’ve barely seen a human face / your own reflection wavers in water. Dish God sings hymns in squealing faucets / rhythm in clacking plates. / There’s honesty to the labor of the Pit. Wash the dishes. No more. No less.


You can’t take the dishes with you. When your shift ends another will take your place. The Pit doesn’t care. You are interchangeable as Brillo pads. There is only one fly / dishwasher / repeated

sixty times a second. / Dish God has the head of a fly. You mimic their mindlessness without question / hesitation. Bringing you closer to divinity. Dish God validates our efforts / sanctifies our scrubbing / gives repetition her blessing.

6 hour shift becomes mass. Dark water made holy. Give Dish God your sins / be absolved. Stay in the Pit end up dissolved.  / Dishes for the Dish God. May she rain forever / waiting in a sink of infinite parts. Her six arms hold pots / pans / plates / bowls / soap / bleach. Her eyes hold compassion.

We pray that when we punch the cosmic clock / she will pick our spirits from the drain.

We will spend eternity feasting in the sun. Someone else will wash the dishes.

Travis Baka is a recent graduate of the University of Missouri. He lives in Columbia MO, where he writes poetry and essays. Travis plays in a punk band called Ski Mask. He can be contacted by seance and facebook.