I used to go to this cemetery as a teenager, when I wanted to get out of the house but had nowhere to go. It felt peaceful and sacred and safe.
sometimes I would lay a blanket in the grass and just listen – to the crickets, the distant trains, nothingness. Other times I would read the names of the dead; trace the letters with my nicotine-stained fingers and try to imagine how each of these lives spent their days.
The unknown has always been a reassurance to me. Knowing that our past is forever etched in stone, but that our futures can always be reimagined.
I sat at my table peeling back the thick rind of an orange
I waited for him to come back from an ice cream run.
The skin a little soft
over ripened by a day, maybe two
I dug my thumb in, making that first indentation -
the one that spills the scent of citrus through the room.
I force my thumb under the skin
pushing like a bulldozer
as I turn the orb round and round
one long peel falls to the table.
He comes back, empty-handed
blaspheming the atmosphere with the news of another death
two in one week -
one to drugs,
another to the windshield of a Honda.
I sit in silence
as my thumb drips with the sweet, sticky juice
I take a segment to my lips and only seem to taste the bitterness of the missed piece of rind.
The piece burst as my molars meet
the juice a little soured
the flesh a little tough
and I'm afraid to swallow,
like there's a piece I won't be able to choke down.
the black and white alternation of tile
stiff, red vinyl seats
enough to make this crappy diner loathsome.
the food was cheap
and always so warm.
"more coffee" he barked -
more of a command than a question
as he overflowed the awkwardly small-handled mug
without my concession.
my "thank yous" fell to the floor
he rushed to check the grill -
flip, turn, prod, push.
he was a broken man
one who didn't smile,
whose elusive mind was elsewhere.
this unpleasant diner was his
the smoke-stained walls and offensive air
solidified ownership like a deed.
sun up or down, it was always his face behind that heavy door.
he seemed so empty
like the fragile shell of a used egg.
I would say funny things
drip with gratitude
compliment his cooking.
he never said thank you
or seemed to know I was even speaking.
his agony and mystery
what moments empty a man to bone?
the homeless man in the corner booth was there every night
like the hand of a clock
he was predictable and always moving.
I saw the repetitions of his dirt-stained hands.
pinching thumb and pointer finger
up and down, repeat.
sliding from my gaudy booth
the vinyl squeaked a little as I moved.
I carried my plate to a table closer to him.
he was filling coffee filters
pinching the crimped sides with gritty fingers
gently placed on the table
premeasured scoop dug into the heaping grounds
dumped methodically in the middle
new filter stacked on top of the last
stacks of 8, new pile.
Empty walked over to him
asking genially if he'd like a refill
the old man nodded.
this broken man -
primitive and boorish
gruff and withdrawn
had a heart after all.
he employed the hands of a man who had nowhere to lay his head -
to keep him warm
and to serve his dignity back to him
on a silver platter.