waitress poems

Monday, October 31, 2005


Tonight in the dark I run my finger
down the scar that divides you in half.
You go on sleeping as you did at twelve or thirteen
when the surgeon, who spoke to your parents
but never to you, opened your chest
and admitted your heart to the room full of ordinary things:
the green haze of fluorescent lights, polished floors,
the hungry gossip we use to define our lives.
I wish I cold have been there that day
to watch as your heart with its malfunctioning valve
fixed as methodically as a carburetor.
I wish I could have seen the secret room inside your chest
cracked open and searched for treacheries.
I would have stood above you
and sewn your right side back to your left
with strong black thread, your heart in place
beneath my hand. I would not have faltered.
But for twenty years I waited to touch the long scar
that divides you like a highway.
For twenty years I waited for this night
when I, having taught myself the boldness of surgery,
could open you and fill you with the things I know:
my stories, my lies, the precision of my touch.

Friday, October 28, 2005


Old women in head rags go out
to sweep the steps
of gray buildings.
But the fiery leaves
circle and taunt,
refusing capture.
Look quickly!
down the street
a rider in an orange cap
pedals his bike
through an arc of light
and is gone.

Monday, October 24, 2005


Beside an unproductive cranberry bog
he camps out for a season or two,
a defector from wars we do not know
dressed in the tatters of his own defeat.

In fall, when the boys sneak down
to the crimson marsh to smoke a joint,
he comes out of his shack, a small fire
dangling from his mouth. And sipping his
final comfort, he discourses on love.

As always, it’s about Cu Chulaind:
Did you know, he begins,
his voice a dark seduction, the chieftain
loved his wife Emer so much
he captured the brightest birds
and brought them to her room.
Until the day when beautiful Fand
poured the drink of pure forgetting

The drink of pure forgetting! Cu Chulaind
roars and weeps,
as the boys, who cannot understand--not yet,
drop their joints and run
from fervid eyes, and quaking voice,
from Fand’s inviting thighs.

Alone once more, he swallows another fated pint,
as he haunts the dysfuntional bog,
filling its murky waters with a thousand years of travel,
a thousand nights of weak lament.

How long, Cu Chulaind? he wails.
How long; how far; how deep?
How many years must he drink down,
how many countries travel
before the birds are all set free?

Thursday, October 20, 2005


Last night on PBS, I saw a crow
with a name (Betty, like my aunt
who paints landscapes and never
forgets my birthday)
demonstrate the intelligence of
birds. She bent a wire to make a tool
so she could retrieve food
from a cylinder. And when
they took her tool away, she made
another! And another!

The scientist who proved
Betty's intelligence was a young
black man. Handsome, too.
But it was ballet that gave him
the discipline to study birds.
Ballet and that school in New York
where they made the movie Fame.

Part of Betty's story involved
actors from the movie,
leaping over banisters and
singing about immortality.

Another part of Betty's story involved
a handsome young scientist
dancing Salsa around a blue living room
with a ceiling as high as the sky.
Dancing and believing
and dreaming about crows
with names like Betty.


Someone has given me
a ball of colorful rubber bands
for my office.
a hard round ball of rubber bands.

Back when I had a use
for rubber bands, I would
leave them on the door knob
in case I needed one. Now all I
can think to do is toss
the bright ball through a window
on bad days, heave it toward
the sky on good ones--
a spinning globe of

It calls to mind an ex-boyfriend,
who wore a flesh colored band
around his wrist.
He said it was to remind him
of something important,
but would never tell me
what it was.

Now I pull a bright red band
from the knotted ball
and put it on my wrist. Maybe
it will come to me--
the secret I never knew
in a red rubber band
uncomfortably tight
on my wrist bone.

Monday, October 17, 2005


Though he has never been there,
he knows the rivers that cut through
her Ontario childhood,
understands the way their mysterious arcs
subtly define the music she writes
for guitar and flute, and how the cold sun
of those isolated years
still slants across her days.

Would you believe that as a teenager
he collected all of Laura Nyro’s albums;
and when she first found herself
in the loneliness of a city girl’s wail
on that still Canadian farm,
he was there, too. Waiting. Knowing.
Humming in the distance.

If she just gives him a chance,
he will tell her about the books
that changed him, and how each of them
subtly foretold the story of her life, the snow
that spills into her music. Even now.

While her husband and his wife sip their wine,
leaning into the silence of bygone winters,
he presses forward on the couch, his eyes
enormous with rapport. And then, abruptly--
it’s time to slip back into heavy coats,
the night that sprawls outside her door.

Climbing into the car, the black carapace
of a half-forgotten life,
he clears his throat and starts the ignition while
beside him all along, a wife adjusts her scarf,
stares into the dark, and
feels her way toward a new equilibrium.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


I hate vegetables, you said, and what's more
I haven't been hungry in months. I was digging
the hardened soil behind my apartment,
determined to make a garden. While I pulled roots
and defined a border with rocks, you stood
at the edge of my plot, clutching your story
in your fist like a ragged hat.
I was a neghbor who kept to herself,
but you told me about a recurring nightmare
in which you go home to San Juan
and find your family name erased
from the phone book; and no matter how many days
you walk through the city, you can't find
the street where you lived as a child.
While I went on digging, you spoke of the job
you didn't have, the days you passed from hand to hand--
tickets to a concert taking place elsewhere.
Finally you told me again how little you ate,
meticulously listing the foods
that had grown tasteless in your mouth:
chicken, mofongo, even the bitter grapefruit.

Two days later you jammed a .22 into your mouth,
determined, at last, to taste. But I could not listen
to the talk that followed your death,
without thinking about the stealthy garden
that was beginning to grow in your absence.
I thought of the tomatoes' red perfection and the taste
of dirt I could not wash from the carrots.
I saw the small boys who pilfered my cucumbers
and the best of the watermelons;
I heard their laughter as they spit out the seeds.
I remembered the day you spoke to me
as the soil lodged beneath my fingernails.
I scrubbed and scrubbed my hands for months,
but in dreams, I turned the earth again.
In dreams your words returned with the dirt
and the shape of the hoe in my hand.
In dreams you are still walking,
searching for the street of your childhood.
Sometimes you come to the edge of my garden,
looking as if your hunger has finally returned,
and I know that no matter how much food I grow,
it will never be enough.

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