waitress poems

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.)

Saturday, November 12, 2005


Ninety in a month,
though everyone but Marie knows
she’ll never make it.
With blood leaking
at the base of her brain
a stomach swollen and malign,
Marie pronounces it
“nothing serious,” and plans
a party in the spring.
She spits out the creamy drinks
laced with vitamins
we offer through straws.
Still each night Marie rises
from her bed, escaping
Houdini-like from the contraptions
that anchor her in place.
Sure that someone needs her
in another room,
she strays through halls
in a nearly hollow nightgown,
listening for the clear voice that
summoned her from sleep.
What comes next are
the inevitable falls: a cracked rib,
stitched forehead,
and then the broken hip.
In the hospital after surgery
she writhes in sleep, but
when we weep for this old friend,
Marie’s eyes snap awake;
she startles us with the smile
that still defines her life:
“Come here,” she whispers
drawing us close so she
can relay her final secret:
It’s really not so bad.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


When you hang yourself
in the closet
at the end of the day
you are

not silk but
grey, a
faded plaid with
white lines streaking
like the rib
cage of a bird, like your
when it lives
there. Disembodied,
you are

finally visible.

I don't see the
shirt but
the spots you've
worn away, the
awkward bones, the turns

came without warning
leaving the
inner threads
naked--not torn just
open, durable strands
thickspun nerve.

When you hang yourself
in the closet
at the end of
the day and

what's left in the
old skin--white
sheets, our
heap of comfortable,
often washed dreams,
I open
the door and

put on that shirt,
the old touch--
familiar as cotton, soft as
breath. And from
the inside
I feel it again--

the heartbeat, your
persistent as
the darkness that grows wild
around us.

First appeared in Poetry Northwest

Friday, November 04, 2005


After visiting you
in the hospital, I dine alone,
the only party of one
in this bistro
where even the silverware
comes in pairs, in groups,
in clattering crowds.

I want to write a note
on my linen napkin
or the check, the stark
and gleaming table top
to explain that I'm alone this this time
not because I'm afraid
or abandoned, or lost

in a strange city,
but because today
riding the elevator up
to your white room,
I crowded in close enough
to smell the make-up and aftershave
my fellow passengers wore

to mask their sorrow.
Coming down, I rode alone,
my own sorrow folded
neatly in my purse,
while a sharp silence
looked over my shoulder,

by the clamor my life makes.
Tonight I take that silence
to dinner.
I drink martinis and feel it
spinning drunk inside me,
feel it laughing at my
polished manners,

hiding behind my teeth
when I talk to the waitress,
a smiling young woman
with a thick yellow braid
that shines like a snake
coiled around her head
and into itself.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005


Home from the hospital,
you lie in bed studying the sky
as if you expect to see a scar
erasing itself in the distance.
I want to take out my crayons
and deepen the color,
rearrange the clouds like lawn furniture
so the sun will stop tripping over them.
I want to sketch two green trees,
three flowers, and one plain white house
the way children draw safety.
And I wouldn't forget the mother and father,
sprouting between the flowers,
stick figures in bright colors
who smile and wave in approval.

But for nine days, there's been
nothing but bowls and bowls
full of clouds
spilling over the landscape
and into my drawing.
I tell you how much I wanted
to be a child for you,
able to distill the world
into priimary colors and simple lines.
And you laugh, already feeling stronger.

Later, after supper,
we will walk out toward the field
where the black trees
open like fans
and you will point out clouds
deepening into purple,
formations you have seen
resembling oxen, eagles, women
who are not afraid of the dark.

First appeared in Dark Horse.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


Already, Mother, you have come to
the snow scene. You, who
I still see as strong and brown-limbed
in a sundress
now come to visit, pale
inside layers of handknit sweaters
from Iceland or Peru--
distances I hunger for,
countries you will never see.
There are bits of grey ice
you cannot shake from your hair,
certain fears that have drawn
shadows on your face.
But there is beauty too--
the drifts that slope against
our old house, the curve
of your hand holding a teacup.
Do you remember the snowmen
we used to make
when I was growing up?
We gave them my old scarves, the
felt hats you wore when you were young
and worked in the city.
The glorious time, you called it--
or did not call it--but I knew anyway.
I always imagined the snowmen alive and sad
at the end of winter
as if just before mud season,
melting, one eye missing,
they realized who they were.

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