waitress poems

Thursday, April 28, 2005


Later it will hang in a dark closet
beside your blue suit. When you
wear it, it will stand between
the lies you tell the world
and your heart.
But now, dangling on the line,
autumn’s slow conflagration
sparking behind it,
it has shaken off your claims
of ownership.
Startled with sun,
the wind captured in one swollen sleeve,
it is the purest thing on the landscape;
it is the Holy Ghost
come out to stir the flames.

First appeared in The Tampa Review

Wednesday, April 27, 2005


While dreaming a poem about autumn
your waitress thoughtlessly poured
water in your coffee cup,
splashed chowder on your suit.
So sorry and excuse me but
in case you haven’t heard
there’s a high wind in the dining room,
a half-moon in the pie;
there’s a blaze in the crystal,
and wild weather in your eyes.
I know you wanted your meat rare,
some extra sour cream,
but just outside the window, trees
are bleeding leaves;
the sunflowers wear mourning;
there’s desolation at the tables
and tumult in the air;
an anarchy of color
threatens stability everywhere.
I know you wanted your tea hot
and your check promptly tallied;
but in case you haven’t seen,
your waitress has unloosed her hair,
has given up her tray
and absconded with her pen in hand
to catch the world that’s burning.

first appeared in Nimrod International Journal

Tuesday, April 26, 2005


All she wanted was a cup of tea made
just the way she liked it: neither weak,
nor steeped to bitter black on the cold stove...
A cup of tea she would have fixed herself
if she were able,
A cup like the one she made every afternoon,
brewing it in the last of her wedding china,
a small and delicate cup,
festooned with a single yellow rose.
Too late she realized this was the best hour
of her day: the hour when
she huddled over her steaming cup
and worked on her scrapbooks, clipping bits
from Life or the Saturday Evening Post,
and pasting them beside
the photographs and exotic souvenirs
her sons sent from the front.

If only she had understood
what happiness was--
sipping on the perfect cup of tea
neither syrupy nor bland with too much milk,
perhaps nibbling a biscuit from a plate,
as she kept watch for the postman
whose step crunched the walkway
at precisely three--the possibility
of a letter pulling her to the window
with the lightness of a girl.
That such letters were terse and rare
only increased their price.
Folding and unfolding the wispy sheets, she read them
until she felt the texture of the words,
the way she had once felt the boys’ skin
pressing into hers
when they were small and needy.

But in the end, she was reduced to this--
stranded in her grey bed and crying
for a simple cup of tea
like the children once cried for milk.
The sons who came home were strangers .
Distracted by money and drink
and memories they could tell to no one--
they rushed in,
smelling of cold air and salt and young women
with flushed faces, cellophane bright mouths.
Always in a hurry,
they promised to fix her tea,
but forgot to light the kettle
or left it cooling on the stove,
as a succession of doors
slammed behind them.

How could she have known that
throughout her long vigil,
she was the one who was in danger?
That sipping her tea, arranging the scrapbooks
until they told the story precisely,
she was the one who had been marked out,
betrayed, the cells of her body
embarking on their own high drama?

And now, decades too late,
we come loping up her walkway;
we push past the heavy gate, the door
with its blistered paint, its faded number.
Separated by nothing but the perversity of time,
we climb the stairs to her room and
pull back the grey sheets,
our mouths full of her name: Mary.
Retracing the arc of an ordinary life,
we stand at the foot of the stairs,
as if we still expect her to appear
in her thin nightgown, a little weak,
but pleased to see us,
dying for a cup of tea

Come to the kitchen, Mary, come!
Together we will sit at the table and watch
the street where your heart lifted
at the sight of the mailman.
Together we will keep watch.
You can show us your scrap books,
the letters folded in thin blue packets,
a war made tractable by your hand.
Though surely late, we’re here to read
the story no one wanted; we’ve come
to bring you the perfect cup of tea,
one that is neither too weak,
nor steeped to bitter black on the cold stove...

Monday, April 25, 2005


When I die, I want a funeral
like the Chicken Man had this week
in New Orleans. For once,
let them bury a shy writer
like they bury voodoo priests--
with gin splashed on my old suit and
two white horses to drag me
in my sorry box
through streets exalted
by sweat and neon.
May enough people know me
for my eccentricity or for my songs
that a few will join
in the ecstatic mourning
when the man with the black umbrella
steps forth to lead my parade.
Let the the dirge be short and
the jazz blow
till the sidewalks cough up steam
and every shoulder shimmies.
If someone steps up
to speak of me, make sure they say
that like the Chicken man,
I was a poet,
fated to walk through life
in a black top hat
with a monkey skull in one fist,
a staff
topped with a plastic human hand
in the other,
and that when I had light,
I passed out candles
to the multitude
who clamor
for blessings on the street.

First appeared in Brilliant Corners

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