Our Waffle House looks like all the others:
tired formica tables studded
with condiments and napkin holders,
a long line of fixed, metal counter stools,
faded leatherette booths tacky to the touch.
Today, outside the big plate glass windows,
business is brisk at the Shell station,
traffic on 231 seems to be moving along.
Behind the counter, a cook is shoving
hash-browns, onions and bacon over the hot, flat grill.
Overhead, the light cast by large, round globes is bright
as an operating room.
Five “girls” are handling the booths and counter.
I know them all.
I sit at one of Amber’s booths,
she knows she is my favorite.
Her fingernail polish changes color when wet
I have learned over time, but I do not
know the stories of her piercings
or the web tattoo behind her left ear.
She looks tired.
She pours hot coffee and steps back a pace.
“My son died last week”, she barely breathes.
“An accident?” I ask.
Her face is damp and doughy.
“He was twenty… overdose. Not heroin,
fentanyl (a fact that seemed important to her).
He’d been clean for five months.”
She sighs, her eyes teary, confused.
Behind her, the work elbows on.
Orders are called out, eggs, bacon and biscuits
slide onto plates, the jukebox pumps out country woe.
I rub her forearm, not knowing what else to do.
My limp “I’m sorry.” is worthless,
so small, so impotent. It vaporizes with my breath.
Even here in our small Alabama town
a Hydra is preying,
its gargantuan multi-national mouths
stuffed with drug money sacrificed
every night by everyday America.
Jeanette Willert taught English Education at Canisius College in Buffalo, NY and served as director of the Western New York Writing Project. Currently, serve on the Board of Directors of Writes Anonymous in Pell City, Alabama and just resigned as Vice-President of the Alabama State Poetry Society. My poems have won recognition in ASPS contests, NFSPS contests, the Robinson Jeffers Poetry Festival, and Birmingham Library Haiku contest. She have been published in Birmingham Arts Journal, Buffalo Evening News Poetry Page and in Charles Frazier’s Anthology of Appalachian Writers My chapbook Appalachia, Amour won the Alabama State Morris Chapbook Award for 2017. She was selected as 2018 Poet of the Year by the Alabama State Poetry Society and was a judge for the National Federation of State Poetry Societies in 2019.