Reflected in the plate glass, the pies
look like clouds drifting off my shoulder.
I’m telling myself my face has character,
not beauty. It’s my mother’s Slavic face.
She washed the floor on hands and knees
below the Black Madonna, praying
to her god of sorrows and visions
who’s not here tonight when I lay out the plates,
small planets, the cups and moons of saucers.
At this hour the men all look
as if they’d never had mothers.
They do not see me. I bring the cups.
I bring the silver. There’s the man
who leans over the jukebox nightly
pressing the combinations
of numbers. I would not stop him
if he touched me, but it’s only songs
of risky love he leans into. The cook sings
with the jukebox, a moan and sizzle
into the grill. On his forehead
a tattooed cross furrows,
diminished when he frowns. He sings words
dragged up from the bottom of his lungs.
I want a song that rolls
through the night like a big Cadillac
past factories to the refineries
squatting on the bay, round and shiny
as the coffee urn warming my palm.
Sometimes when coffee cruises my mind
visiting the most remote way stations,
I think of my room as a calm arrival
each book and lamp in its place. The calendar
on my wall predicts no disaster
only another white square waiting
to be filled like the desire that fills
jail cells, the cold arrest
that makes me stare out the window or want
to try every bar down the street.
When I walk out of here in the morning
my mouth is bitter with sleeplessness.
Men surge to the factories and I’m too tired
to look. Fingers grip lunch box handles,
belt buckles gleam, wind riffles my uniform
and it’s not romantic when the sun unlids
the end of the avenue. I’m fading
in the morning’s insinuations
collecting in the crevices of the building,
in wrinkles, in every fault
of this frail machinery.
From Collected Poems (Graywolf Press, 2006). Copyright © 2006 by Lynda Hull. Used with the permission of Graywolf Press.
Lynda Hull was born on December 5, 1954, in Newark, New Jersey.
Date Published: 2017-11-06
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/night-waitress