The waitress sits me down by the window,
calls me "hun" and places
a familiar yellow square before me.
I don't need a menu
and she doesn't need
to write down my order.
She remembers it just fine.
There is one other couple
in the place. She is smoking.
I look out over the city.
I first realized I had become a southern writer
when I saw all those references to "cornbread"
cropping up in my poems.
Contemplating the browned edges
I could almost see the flies that had lived in this place.
Wringing their hands at the hope of crumbs
or an inattentive diner.
It's not because I like cornbread,
I don't really. It is only o.k.
It's usually too dry. I would never
go out of my way for it.
The attraction, I guess
is more like how I feel about God.
I don't understand it. I don't understand
how so many
people, good people
thoughtful, reflective people,
even cynical people,
I don't understand why
The waitress brings me my meal
and for a moment I forget about
God and flies and good and inattentive people.
I just eat and don't bother
with the black specs in my drink.
I understand the need.
It's like that window washer
dangling across the way.
Thirty stories above the pavement
on a rope as thin as his thumb.
He has to believe in something.
He has to trust in something.
Cornbread crumbs fall on my shirt and table.
I understand the need.
A waitress in this vacant place
filled with hope that I might leave
a two dollar tip on a five dollar meal.
But the window washer, the waitress,
when they get home again
and the roof still leaks
or the kids are crying
and the same fight with their mother
or spouse that they have been having
for 20 years, and the same bills to pay
and same chores that resemble
what they barely finished yesterday.
Their lives, my life too,
are dangling by a thread.
And all that faith
all that hope that helped
them get to today
does not wipe the absurdity away
The waitress comes and asks me
if I am done with my plate.
I nod. She takes it away
and uses a rag to brush
the cornbread crumbs on the floor.
God. Cornbread. Thumb-thin rope.
I guess it doesn't really matter
what we believe in, how hard or why.
What matters is that we just
keep on cleaning up and hanging on.
Sean Doyle, a native of Delaware and father of three, moved to the Triangle five years ago to practice law. His poem, "Designs by Eloise," was runner-up in the Independent's 2000 poetry contest.
Poetry Picks runs every week in the Independent. To submit a poem, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include a few short sentences about who you are and where you're from.