Degrees of Doneness
As the steak-cook at Hy’s
I could grill up to fifty hunks
of beef—striploin, sirloin, tenderloin
rib eye, all different sizes and degrees
of doneness—at the same time, and
usually feel confident
about putting each one on a plate
and sending it out
into the dining room.
Dozens of diners would watch
me in my glass box,
hunkered over the glowing charcoal,
sweat seeping up the rim of my hat
and into the kerchief tied around my neck.
They would speculate about which steaks
were theirs as I brushed meat with oil,
shook seasoning salt, rotated each one
forty-five degrees to achieve the perfect
grill marks. I knew the hot spots
and quirks of the fire and with my tongs
I would press gently in the middle
of each one to determine how much
more time it needed on the grill.
Inevitably one or two would come back
in need of more time, the centre
a little too rare
for the customer’s liking.
I become as familiar as I can with
my students’ unique textures.
They come in so many different cuts
and degrees of doneness.
My brow is dry but the sweat seeps inward.
Parents press their faces against the glass.
The hot spots change
by the minute. I turn and season
each student, press them gently
what to feel for, and when I slap them
on a plate and send them into the world
I never really know how rare they are.