The Journey By Alan King
Each day is a little life: every waking and rising
a little birth, every fresh morning a little youth,
every going to rest and sleep a little death.
The diner’s nearly empty
when you both arrive – except for
the six or so other patrons and
a waitress who calls everyone “Hun”.
The fluorescent lights lick the Formica bar
and chrome stools, the black and purple beaten
booths and a straw-headed boy staring at you
over cold chicken strips, the ketchup
a sticky scab on his plate.
He reminds you of the little girls
the night before, running through a restaurant
in Berlin, Maryland, where you stayed at a hotel
known to be an antique –
its hardwood bathroom floors, the claw-
footed tub with its wraparound shower curtain,
the portraits of hoop-skirted women
twirling parasols, the prairie-style
wooden armoire closet.
The two girls, laughing as they ran through
the Drummers Cafe, stopped at the sight
of you and your wife, the only black people
in the restaurant that night.
When you remember the patrons’ darting
eyes at your wife’s dreadlocks, the way
the hostess smiled past you to the white family
she sat, while you waited,
when all around you the consensus
seemed to echo the nursery rhyme:
How did it get so late so soon?
It’s night before it’s afternoon,
you remember the loneliness
of feeling like the only one fighting for sanity
when the world makes you someone else.
You watch your wife rub her full moon
and talk to your daughter 27 weeks alive
inside her, knowing that each day is a little life,
each step towards progress a little birth,
even if the journey is full of off ramps,
like the one that brought you both
to a bright diner on your way home,
to the slurping straw that says
the blond boy’s savoring what’s left
of his chocolate shake before he sacks out
on the plush seat – his mom flipping through
a magazine, picking at her fries.
You watch him wrapped in his blue blanket –
as if sleep weren’t a little death; as if the world
weren’t a dark dream, haunted by a boogeyman’s
appetite for innocent things.”