For Mary, the Past Owner of my Parents' Diner
By Sara Ries
So you only tried to escape the nursing home,
return to the diner you ran for fifty years,
but when I think of you, Mary, you are already past
Fifth Street, three blocks from the red diner that grows
with every step of your dirty slippers. You wear
an oversized white nightgown under a moon
that is not supposed to see you, and you ask yourself -
Where did I put my apron; where are my black pants?
The nurses think you're asleep, but Mary,
we both know the diner music never quiets;
we have to see the instruments - Fred stamps snow
off his boots as the telephone rings for a take-out.
Harvey calculates the pancakes & eggs he'll live for,
according to doctors, as a young couple laughs.
Mugs hit tables after coffee sips, forks scrape plates
for the last good bites, toasters click-burnt wheat
and Skip says I'll eat it. Single mother makes coffee
in an already full pot - next week, you'll assign her overnights.
She says Hi coffee? to a man who just sat,
and he responds Well, my name isn't coffee,
but I'll take that black stuff - every day, the stupid jokes,
constant weather reports - they said snow but there's not a flake
in the air. Every day people leave with their stomachs full
and another thing empty. Gordy says Mary, got a hankerin'
for your chili. He pulls an eyelash from the chili and eats.
You didn't live long after they put you in that home,
but Mary, you're still in our diner - we have a picture
of you above the ice cream freezer. People always ask
if you're my grandma, and I tell them No, we're here
because of an ad in the paper, but I think of you as
Grandma of Our Diner, and I blame it on you
when I forget to put the Closed sign up - I blame it on you
when I can't stay away for too long.
SARA RIES is the author of "Come In, We're Open," a debut collection of poems that is the winner of the 2010 Stevens Manuscript competition sponsored by National Federation of State Poetry Societies. A graduate of Fredonia State College and the Master of Fine Arts program in poetry at Chatham University, she is host of the monthly Poetry Night at the Woodlawn Diner in Blasdell, which is owned by her parents.