This is a prose poem I wrote just over a year ago. It’s been fairly popular with the poetry group I frequent as often as I can. I can’t remember what my mentality was when I wrote it; I just remember I was working at the comic shop when I started it. I wrote it by hand first then redrafted it a couple of times on my word processor. I have a strange fascination with diners and I did much of the redrafting at the Denny’s around the corner from my house. I think there’s a sort of divide in people in that regard. There’s diner/cafe people and there are bar/club people. I enjoy both kinds of establishments but I definitely spend more time in diners and cafes, especially late at night.
You fidget a little on your vinyl seat
Your sweat becomes an adhesive
But the sweat tells you something else
You’ve been sitting here for a long time
You look up at the neon lit clock over the open kitchen
The seconds tick… tick… tick… and tick closer to 4a.m.
You wrap your hands around the mug that’s in front of you
It’s ice cold against your already shaking fingers
The waitress walks by and asks if you want if you want a warm up
She holds up the full pot of coffee and smiles
You look down and your mug is still full
You stretch out your fingers, smile, shake your head, and mouth a quiet, polite “no, thank you.”
The waitress raises a curious eyebrow
As she saunters through the almost deserted restaurant
She must have been serving you all night
And the same coffee has sat in front of you for what must be hours already
You don’t know how many
You don’t remember when you arrived
You don’t remember how you got there, but you probably walked
You just remember the vinyl sticking to you
You remember staring at the clock
And the waitress’ curious stare
A menu sits at arm’s length away
You wonder if the waitress expects you to order something more
If the overnight cooks are poised and ready for action any minute now
But nothing has been staying down lately
Even when you try to bring that cold mug to your lips
Your stomach curdles, and twists, and moans in agony
To the thought of taking anything into it
You don’t eat; you function on nothing and leave your brain in neutral gear
I’m not sure if you can actually call this functioning
Even less possible than eating is sleeping
God, it’s been days, hasn’t it?
Or weeks? Maybe it’s been weeks?
Time has completely stopped making any sense
Even that neon clock which hangs over the open kitchen
Seems to tick forward and back, and then forward and then back again
All the different hands now have their own wills and do what they wish
You hear a gentle voice from behind
It’s the waitress again; the clock tells you it’s half past 4 now
She must be bored though, dealing with all this emptiness
Why does your emptiness hold your attention with an iron grip?
The waitress seems genuinely concerned about you
But, is she attempting conversation out of real interest?
Or are her actions dictated by her boredom once again?
You reassure her that you’re fine
Just thinking, that’s all
You don’t totally lie to her
You were thinking this whole time
You’re thinking about everything you’ve worked towards
All your achievements and your completed goals
And yet, it feels like all that you really have
Is this cup of cold coffee
What have you worked towards, really?
Mediocrity? Your parents’ goals?
What your peers and what you loosely call your community expects of you?
Are you living the way you want to live?
Are you portraying some character that others have projected onto you?
Or just some character you want to emulate?
You tried so hard to please everyone else
You forgot that this is your life to live
You wonder if the cup of cold coffee
Could put on a facade, what it would look like
Would it pretend to give warmth again?
Would it pretend not to contort your stomach?
Would it try to be a different colour?
It can’t though.
It never could.
It will always be a cup of cold, black, coffee in a white mug held by your hands
If the coffee can never really change
Or pretend to be something that it never really was
Why is it so easy for humans
To wear so many different masks
And play so many different characters?
You pull out a five dollar bill from your pocket
And you hand it to the waitress
You smile and thank her for her time
She asks if you want the change
But you tell her that the rest is for her
Probably will be the only tip she’ll see all night
You shift to the end of your booth
And push yourself against the table to stable yourself as you stand
Your hands are in your pocket
As you step outside of the diner
And into the morning rain
It’s pouring outside but the sun it peeking over the horizon
You realize it must be summer
This season has crept up on you
You lean against the outside wall of the diner
Just under and overhang and watch the rain drops fall
Hit the concrete, and spread all around
You pop a cigarette into your mouth
And exhale hard thinking about your walk home
You pull out a book of matches, pull a match out, and light it
As you bring the fire closer to your mouth
You think about how this won’t be the last match that you light
As you hope that everything about you
All of your false achievements and feigned lifestyles
Will disintegrate into flames and smoke
And you can start over again
For real this time.