I’m not much to look at now, but when I was 19, I could make anything look good, even that green polyester uniform. I liked the attention, and I learned to like the cops, the strippers, the drunks, and the grab bag of other weirdos that flocked to the neon light of Frank’s Diner Supreme that summer.
The one guy I couldn’t stand was Frank himself. He owned the place and acted like it. He’d come in, order black coffee, and smoke like a goddamn house on fire.
I was relieved when he croaked. Sounds mean, but there it is.
Frank was good by me. He liked his coffee and his smokes and keeping himself to himself.
I’m lucky to know Frank cause I wouldn’t have no job otherwise. You do 15 years for manslaughter and tell me how easy it is to find work after. I learned how to cook when I was inside, though, and that helped.
I was a good enough cook alright, but I think Frank liked having me around on the hoot owl shift because then nobody would fuck with the place.
I’m Bill and they call me Don’t Fuck With Bill. And they’re right.
Marky boy would come swerving into the parking lot at 2 after the Slovak Club closed. I would just look away when he’d stumble into the place. Same for the kids who would come in there stinking of pot. If I had run into them in town it would be different, okay, but at Frank’s? Frank’s was a neutral zone.
I looked at that place like a kind of sanctuary. People could come there and be safe and not be bothered. So could I. It probably helped to have them at Frank’s. Better there than running around town anyway, right?
The food at that place wasn’t great, but the jukebox was perfect. I mean that the volume was just right–soft enough that you could have a conversation if you wanted, but loud enough to cover the silence if you didn’t feel like talking. Ain’t it funny how that works? If there’s no music in a place, it feels odd sitting there not talking to anyone. But if thereâ€™s music playing, it feels just fine.
I needed a place like that then. A place to get my thoughts together and talk, or not talk if I didnâ€™t feel like it.
Me and my buddies used to go there when we were stoned. Weâ€™d get waffles and cheesesticks and all that shitty food you feel like eating when youâ€™re high. We tried smoking out back once, but Bill saw us and told us that if we ever did it again heâ€™d fuck us up. I think he would have, too.
Oh yeah, there was this cop who would be there sometimes, too. Man, he must have been dumb as fuck. We were completely out of our heads half the time and this dumb bastard had no idea. Not a fucking clue.
He was a good sheriff for three seasons of the year, but in the winter he would lock his guns in a cedar chest and sit in his office and drink whiskey. Nothing much happened in the winter, and maybe it was the boredom that made him drink so much.
One February, though, someone stole a horse from Fat Ned Chamberlain. I saw the sheriff ride off that afternoon slumped in the saddle like a sack of feed. At sundown, he came back with Ned’s horse and a body, which he dumped on the steps of the First Methodist Church.
Muster here you mighty, you men who’ve earned the name
We gather in the great hall, to greet a hero bold
With shining shields the honor guard, shall safeguard one whose fame
Has vouchsafed with his valor, a vault among the old
For Tyler Doohan
She looks at the odd light and asks,
Dad, am I dreaming?
And then she teaches
Me more about birds.
This morning I saw a killdeer
In the parking lot at work.
It tried to draw me away from its eggs
By pretending to be injured.
I looked at the odd light and thought
Am I dreaming?
Sun burns mountain fog
Even the buildings are ghosts
Glass eyes watch us pass
This evening, this light, and your laugh,
All deserve a fine epigraph.
So quick, call a poet!
Hurry, don’t blow it!
After dusk they charge time-and-a-half.
The gym class voice from the
airport (or is it the bus depot?)
interrupts the regularly scheduled
thunder to deliver its nightly warning
like one of those psychedelic
bull horn shouts from a Beatles
album where you can’t make out
a word of what Paul is saying
but you know what he is trying
to say somehow, some magic way
of hearing that works just fine if
you don’t try too hard.
And what Airport Paul is saying tonight
is the same thing he says every night, Brain:
The weather will be severe and I
should go inside. Consider me warned
Paul, but the weather is severe more
often than not and I think it’s a hell
of a show so I’ll stay put and watch through
my own smoke at the rain hitting the leaves and
listen to the kids screaming inside and the sirens
screaming up on the highway and hope that no one
I am alone on the porch
except for you, little girlâ€“
we are the only two around
who enjoy this soggy heat.
You land on my ankle,
and begin your preparationâ€“
the ritual passed down
from your ancestors.
I begin my own rite,
the snap of my lighterâ€“
a flame that slices the
velvet curtain of night.
My smoke languishes
in the heavy, wet airâ€“
and sinks down, enveloping
your cellophane wings.
What can we do about this
little warrior, ancient enemyâ€“
we who have killed so many
of each otherâ€™s kind?
That rare and subtle flavor
you taste is called pityâ€“
carry it into the night
and start a pandemic.