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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.

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