Small, Breathing Thing
At the diner, there’s a man.
The waitress asks how Maggie is.
He plays with the cutlery, adjusts
His napkin until it’s perfect.
She’s in hospice, he says, and needs
An egg and bacon on a sesame
Bagel, please. He wants to know
If there’s a newspaper laying
Around he can read? There isn’t.
Outside, the wind has picked up some trash.
Leaving my glasses on the table,
I go next door to Mike’s Market to buy
A paper for the guy, a small gesture
In a brown bag that won’t change much.
When I get back, he’s reading one
The waitress has fished from the trash.
It’s good enough, I’m sure
But it stops me where I stand.
I think about going back outside
To toss my newspaper into the wind
Like setting a stunned bird free
After holding it for a while
cupped in your dark hands.
There’s always a moment
When you want to keep it,
But letting go is easy when it’s one
Small, breathing thing that blames
You for nothing. The man is done
With his egg, the table a carnage
Of grace. He knows he’s not responsible.
Laura McCullough is on the writing faculty at Brookdale Community College where she is also the Chair of the Visiting Writers and Lecturer Series. She won a New Jersey State Arts Council Fellowship in 1995 and her work has appeared in The Lucid Stone, Poetry Motel, The Witness, and other small presses. New poetry and essays are forthcoming this winter/spring in the on-line publications Slant and In Posse.