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  • I.

    Christmas afternoon
    we were downtown
    with an extra hour to fill.
    We'd got the times confused
    and wandered in the rain and twilight
    until we found a Cajun restaurant
    with its lights on.

    Tiny speakers rattled out
    a tinny second line
    as we took our table
    and the Lebanese proprietor took our orders
    to his Vietnamese wife
    stationed at the stove,
    before he leaned across the counter
    to proclaim at two police officers
    that they were on the front lines.
    They ate in the window
    and half in silence,
    and they turned to face him
    from their vigil gazing
    out the foggy glass
    into the rain,
    while tourist stopped
    and gazed back in,
    and weighed the dry inside
    behind the now unlighted open sign.

    But the door was unlocked
    and one came in anyway.
    The waiter broke off his praise
    to welcome the newcomer,
    and sat him down,
    and discovering that he'd never heard of Louisiana,
    explained jambalaya to him,
    and broken levies,
    and jazz.
    “It's very ethnic,” the waiter pointed out.
    And the tourist thanked him
    and hoisted up his massive pack
    to trek back out into the storm.

    The police were leaving too, now
    and the owners began to close up shop.
    She gathered up
    all the metallic clatter
    of the kitchen,
    while he nosed through the rustle
    of the day's dry tallies.
    Our plates had been cleared
    but our hosts welcomed us to stay.
    So we sank back
    into the old restaurant's steam whisper,
    and let it envelope us, her and I,
    and peel our words away.
    Our shared silence
    filled the space between us
    and swallowed up the table we were huddled over
    as we both began to write.
    My leg stretched out
    seeking her,
    and she curled her ankle over mine,
    as the separate narratives
    we two sketched out
    rose dizzily above the table
    in a ghostly double helix.


    And then our hour was up
    and the restaurant closed,
    and we set off into the rain again
    to board a train,
    and ride it to the end of the line.
    At the terminal,
    we said goodbye,
    over and over,
    and I had to round a corner
    to keep from turning back to her again.
    And she got on her plane
    while I waited for the train
    to take me back,
    and I read the text she just sent me
    where she told me I was everything.
    The train doors opened
    and everyone boarded
    and I was crying as I sat down.

    And again when I returned
    to our now too-quiet home,
    where in the apartment's dark
    our plastic tree shone too-brightly
    around its single ornament—
    our first together.
    Under the tree, made from an old scarf,
    a felt crow with button eyes sat feeding
    with a stale piece of popcorn
    wedged in his wire beak.
    And empty on the wall
    two stockings hung,
    stitched from the sleeves
    of a dismantled sweater,
    our initials pinned to the cuffs.
    I rubbed my eyes,
    and pushed the crooked baking sheet aside
    in the kitchen sink,
    to fill a pot with water
    and put it on the stove.
    And while it heated,
    I ate all our leftovers.
    And after drank down all our chocolate
    and all our liquor
    in a boiled-over mess.

    Exhausted, I sat thickly down
    to write again
    and wait for her return,
    when we would look down the hillside,
    over the unfolding expanse
    of the new year,
    and another bright tree at its end
    with two ornaments hung in its branches.

    Image credit: Oliver Chang, via Flickr under the Creative Commons License
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