[media-credit name=”William Neuman” align=”alignnone” width=”640″][/media-credit]
the cars, the cars, the cars.
camrys, escalades, ocaseks.
tall dudes and short dudes trace their fingers
over hoods, tap bumpers. inside, carpoolers,
the piled-in-a-ride-the lone milkshake at a table of five,
everything here is deep and fried, hidden from clocks.
a magnet for us, for the crew,
graduated from afterschool programs,
youth groups, leagues.
— most of us couldn’t throw a ball anyway–
but before the future, just
on the way in, I scan who’s already there,
if I should hide my T beneath my coat, cars in
the lines, the desserts, the desserts, the desserts.
in the moment, there are no moments, just banter,
endless coffee, powerful servers and nonexistent ones.
the manager—suspicious and arm-folding,
or maybe the forgiving hot one—please let it be the hot one,
today has been so long and these booths
just want to hold us.
alina was a week left to live, when we had our last real conversation
at one of these, 3pm, I think, in Centralia, Washington.
i don’t remember what we ate, or what our friends ate (there are
always at least three in a booth, unless one is a concerned Youth pastor)
but I assume there was cheese.
the next time in these booths, there was silence,
terrible, terrible, terrible, until someone took the hit
and rallied something loud and stupid, probably about
hardcore, the finer points of punk rock’s ugly brother,
usually saved for round booths. the congregation,
holding court and smokes outside for the non-straight edge
there is always at least one non-straight edge, was always
when abstinence, abstinence, abstinence,
was a thing.
this, may have been the thing that saved me.
‘70s pastels and an imagined ‘50s vibe.
this booth, here, years on, will probably
save me from a dui, renting space and sobriety
as the lots that gradually coax farmers markets,
mid-rise zones and newly tattooed bartenders
into its strip-mall vacancy stays forever the same, no matter.
the chicken fried steak like someone’s mom, somewhere,
used to make, or do now.
mashed potato, mashed potato, mashed potato.
we’re almost done.
leaving feels starch-full and sugar-sweet, like it always has;
in slow morning meetings with injured friends,
news about news in milkshake-spilling gestures,
walking through to the cars,
the movies, the movies, the movies.
I reflect on ravages of cheese and time, but
really, i was probably at similar weight then as now,
to shame or credit. as with then, lights swing and jostle,
we all have one too many coffees
pass overflowing cig piles into paint.