waitress poems

Monday, August 07, 2006

An Opening

In the body. When you’re young,
it’s only sex,
the blinding distractions
of light. Now hospital scenes

My uncle Frank
stubble-faced and weak
after surgery for cancer
of the larynx
sneaking a smoke
in the bathroom.

Or Katie, the friend we envied
for her perfect body.
After what they called
exploratory surgery,
I stood in a room bleached with sun
and watched her sleep,
hands folded obediently
on her lap.

In memory, I stood like that
for days,
just studying those hands.
But in truth,
it was only moments
before her eyes snapped open
revealing the secret
of her fate,

Of mine.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


When she hears her son
has died in war,
she goes to the kitchen,
fills the sink with
water and suds and

begins slowly
to wash the dishes.
Plate after plate, she

pulls them from the water,
washes them,
then lets them go.
She wishes she could remember

everything she's scrubbed
in the last twenty years--
baby bottles cleaned with
stiff burshes, spoons

and bowls and cast iron pots.
It's like breathing now--
Inhale--wash. Exhale--rinse.
Only this grief is new

and not knowing
what to do with it,
she drops it
into the warm grey water.

But she already knows:
This is one well of dishes
that will never be emptied.
Wherever she goes

she will remember
all that she tried to wash away,
all that stained her--

the milk line in the glass,
the half eaten vegetables,
the blood, the blood.

Monday, December 12, 2005


We know the hour.
A book laid aside,
she has given in to
the somnolence
that overtakes us all
when the sun turns coy
in our window.
she lets us see
what a sketch of her nakedness
cannot reveal:
the thighs grown slack,
resolute cheer
of her bright-bowed shoes.
Beside her,
a vase of purple flowers
leaps and flares.
But dreaming the story of her life,
she takes no notice.
Forever she will be
as we are:
a figure with a mirror to her back,
revealing to others
what she cannot know herself:
the bravery and silliness
of the table
she has laid with care,
the darkness her body
both defines and denies.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


The priest comes in his gown
dressed like a black bell,
but silent, silent.
And you lie in the hospital
that white country where
you can ignite like a brushfire
and nothing will burn but you.
He comes after the nurse
drains samples of blood
into long tubes, siphoning
the color from your hours.
He comes after your husband,
your son and daughter
have gone, leaving their pale flowers
He has risen up from your childhood
holding the Communion wafer
between his fingers,
so flat and white it glows.
But when you try to
throw off your fevers and
move toward him,
he withdraws.
Not yet, not yet, he says,
still holding out
for a full confession.

Friday, November 25, 2005


After the table has been cleared of its clatter and glass,
it starchy comforts, fattened grudges...
After the toast has been made and the often abandoned God
lured back to preside
over another restive and imperfect feast...
After hours, years, a lifetime of travel,
the precarious balance of weariness and hope
that tossed you up in this moment,
among the pocked and glowing faces
you call your precious own...
After the dark wine has flooded your veins,
and the sacrificial bird been
gleaned of its pale flesh...
After the drone and passion of distant games
have pulled the men to the living room,
and drawn their roar, their deepest sigh...
After the coffee’s been poured around the table
where the women whisper and scoff and slice more pie...
After a sweet smoke on the grass
where the first chill of the season
penetrates your thin sweater, your narrow city shoes
and fills you with half-forgotten longings...
After the phone calls from distant towns,
bland wishes and crackling silences renewed...
Then comes the hour of reckoning: the nap:
the torpor and satiety of twilight,
a blanket pulled from your childhood closet, thick slumber.
This is an hour that is not discrete, its own,
but a distillation of every nap you ever stole
after every heavy meal
when you battled emptiness with bright scenes,
lucid voices, the undeniable rise and fall of gratitude
inside your every breath.

Monday, November 21, 2005



A man who wobbles through town
in a bike filched from your childhood
a wooden crate affixed to the back fender
containing an old toothbrush, a plastic
fork and spoon, a pair of heavy gloves...
Stenciled across the back
of his army jacket,
a bright script: JESUS LOVES YOU!
wavers in the rain.

A woman in a purple jogging suit,
dark tendrils
inked across her face like tears...
She left home twenty minutes ago
thinking she could run all the way back
to the house of her youth
and everything would be in place:
her favorite tree, the swing out back,
the face in a silver hand mirror
aslant on her bureau.

3.& 4.
Two men bent in supplication
as they lug the day’s supply of beer
back to the Blue Water Motel
where they’ve been camping out for cheap
in the off-season...Taking
the unexpected, the unstoppable,
the lacerating as their due,
they bow their heads to the rain
and continue their blind walk home.

And you--yes, you!
the one who thought
it would be a good morning to walk
to the library, believing as you do
that words will save you
if only you can find the right ones...
But instead, you find yourself
out here in the rain
with a man who carries everything
he needs in a crate,
with the drunks who transport
their daily despair
in a sodden cardboard box,
with a woman who holds
the unforgettable secret of her youth
in the breast pocket
of a purple nylon jacket.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


I drink too much red wine,
drowning in its brilliant color,
and let the wrong men whisper to my blood,
their voices low and crooning.
Whole days pass when I accomplish nothing.
Over and over, I promise reform, then
find myself leaning over another blue drink
staring into dark eyes to see what develops.
The next day my head is a garishly lit room
where I wait for the hour
when I can collapse in shadows on the couch,
blind with self-recrimination.
But even there the forbidden stalks me...
Frank Sinatra singing Fly Me to the Moon on disc,
a cat with a tail like a plume of smoke
tiptoeing over the piano keys,
his touch so light I’m not sure
if I heard the notes he scattered
or just imagined them.

(A very old poem. Hopefully, at this point, I'm not on the verge of ruining anything.)

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