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The diner no longer exists,
long since replaced by a Quick Mart Convenience Center.

It was where my father would take me
when my mother was in the hospital and
there was no one else to make breakfast for.

I don’t even know the name of the place
sense the neon sign above the door said only

Smoke and grease filled the entrance,
unlike today’s legislated smokeless franchises, unlike our smokeless home.
Here, my father could light his cigar without apology.

It seemed each hand in the place reached out
to grasp my father’s. I had no idea
he knew so many strangers, so many folks who would eat breakfast here.

What other lives did he lead
beyond my comprehension?
Beyond the boundaries of father and son and family?

His grasp enclosed this small, smoky world,
as if he owned it,
as if he owned this moment, this joyous juncture, this boundless now.

Here, he lived in the present, without worry,
surrounded by grand reputation and shared brotherhood.
Every eye twinkled. Every head nodded.

This was power beyond fatherhood.
Beyond job and country.
This was connection. Community. Respect.

As he introduced me to his friends,
these same hands reached down
and I had to fight to keep my fist from collapsing beneath the strength of each.

I could barely eat breakfast,
it was so smothered in grease and haze and
the weight of foreignness.

Perhaps I had already been filled
by a past so pregnant and a future so vast I could never imagine myself having
large enough hands to take hold.

Hands © 1998 by Tobin James Mueller
"Ash" published by ArtsForge Press.
All rights reserved.