waitress poems

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.

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