(1948 / OVER 400 POEMS SERVED! !)

Paradise Lost, Again

Another Saturday morning
and the image of yellow
eggbeaters obedient on a plate
rises in my mind
like a sun.

Soon, in quiet eagerness
I drive the back way
over the winding road
amid wooded, upscale houses,
my two quarters in my pocket

and then, CHRONICLE under one arm,
faux-butter spray in my hand,
I walk through the glass doors
like gates to paradise,
down the aisle to my usual
place at the end of the counter.

The waitresses are standing
in a little group, talking
like the maids
in “Upstairs, Downstairs”.

When I first came, months ago,
they were deferentially
anonymous in their black pants
and white shirts, serving me

my perfect breakfast perfectly,
careful to leave intact
my cultivated self-image: mysterious writer,
detached observer, too important
to be disturbed, but throwing out
“thank yous” and polite,
mildly personal questions
like handkerchiefs dropped
by royalty.

Ah, that was a breakfast
to remember! Over the weeks
their personalities began to emerge
until now, in the little
Noh drama, the little
tea ceremony between us,
I sometimes see them
as rebellious natives
and catch myself wishing
for a general
who could restore order.

These days I always wait
until they’ve finished their conversation.
Today, the one who “has” me
and the other counter customers
brought me a only a small water
with a few paltry cubes of ice,

though I must say she remembered
my order, as most of them do
now that I’m a “regular”.

Her mind was on her
conversation with Lady,
tall and looking well-bred,
whom I think I heard
telling someone it’s her last day—
whose family’s just bought a home—
I couldn’t hear where—
and has just learned the fine print
in their contract says
they also have to buy
Homeowner's Insurance.

Lady’s name
in my mind is Blanche,
wife of an evicted
plantation owner,
who had to get her delicate
hands dirty and go back to work.
I’ve always been too shy
to ask how it was
they lost their fortune.

A guy slides in
two seats away at the counter,
looks mischievously
at the server carrying
a big tray over to a table,
and shouts, “I get a better
waitress over here! ”

His voice has
that tone of familiarity
used by the contractors
and construction workers
who come every morning,
that I, the “studious son”
in this big family,
don’t know how to access.

I get out my glasses,
put my fake butter on the table,
and start to read.

The eggs, oatmeal and coffee
are still the perfect
start of a day,
veritable works of visual
and culinary art,

but now as I eat
it’s not like it once was —
I’m in a fallen world.

Everyone knows
I’m just a poor guy
trying to buy a mirror
that will reflect him back
the way he wants to see himself,

and I’m wondering as I read
whether I’m still getting
enough pleasure here

or whether it might be time
to start the whole charade
over again, someplace else.


(...01july7)

User Rating: 5,0 / 5 ( 2 votes ) 3

Comments (3)

Oh Max, what a glorious piece - told simply and warmly with a gently self deprecating underlay that all fellow writers must understand. Your command of our wonderful language is exceptional Max and your images unique and recognizable - like the upstairs downstairs maids in their black and white. This one is easy on the ear and eye and demands a second and third reading. I thoroughly enjoyed it. love, Allie xxxx
I love the gentle self mocking tone Max, and the poetic capturing of detail that gives this recounting its strength. Familiarity does too often breed contempt, and places such as this one maybe need a reminder that contempt loses business. And hey, that on its own justifies moving on; but that isn't your point of course. Like Balzac's Lost Illusions, recovery of that fleeting self image is a bit of problem, especially for the mind that knows that it is an illusion. But, then, we do tend to the mystical, and can believe again with just the right amount of stage cues and dialogue. Yip, might be time to restore the myth. A classic example of engrossing free verse. Loved the tale. The telling is excellent. jim
So deep your thoughts, for that I Thank You...reminds of my own way to approach places where I can feel invisible, and in silence enjoy my own thoughts, without people's loud talk, neither curious eyes...Respect to me the unknown, far distant to show them the truth inside of me. If they could just shut up, and only answer when you ask, then you could see on your mirror, how rich you are! 'Everyone knows I’m just a poor guy trying to buy a mirror that will reflect him back the way he wants to see himself, and I’m wondering as I read whether I’m still getting enough pleasure here or whether it might be time to start the whole charade over again, someplace else. Max Reif '