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gruff and withdrawn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.