………..as the waitress with the missing index finger serves us hot tea without sugar.
I prefer iced tea with Sweet’n Low. She doesn’t care.
………..Later I catch her nibbling chicken legs off used buffet plates
on my way to the bathroom.
Last year the restaurant shut down after a former employee opened fire,
………..shot himself, blood deeper than Sweet-and-Sour dripped down counters,
filled tiled cracks, flooded the dining room where tables of mid-westerners
………..sat cradled under their dinners, hands over their heads
like an earthquake drill, or is that fire?
The owner, a small man with a thin combover, mopped the floor, fixed shattered windows,
………..glued the sneeze guard back to the buffet, and ordered two gold-plated dragons
to cover the stains he couldn’t get clean, and four jade chandeliers with fans
………..to alleviate the smell of the dead.
Back at the table my father has loaded a second plate.
………..“Place looks great,” he says between sips of Won-Ton Soup.
I nod biting the tip off an egg roll, “Did you like the poem?” I ask.
His eyes drift down as if imagining the fate of the little Chinaman
………..in blue and white porcelain swimming at the bottom of his soup bowl,
the one carrying a bucket of rice, a triangle hat balanced on his head,
………..five or six Chinese children at his sandaled feet,
everything is beautiful, everything is blue.
Suddenly the waitress is back taking dirty dishes, working so well with just nine digits,
………..I want to ask her if the man with the gun blew it off,
if her finger was lost to an angry Chinese delivery man who was probably American.
“It was nice” is all I get between bites, between comments about the weather,
………..the décor, the mystery meat inside the Won-Ton pocket, “pork?”
and comments to the waitress who likes to pretend she can’t understand us.
He’d rather I write about little boys and their daddies eating Chinese
………..from a waitress with all ten fingers and a perfectly balanced blue hat.
Previously published in Juked.
Stephen S. Mills holds an MFA from Florida State University. His poems have appeared in The Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide, The New York Quarterly, The Antioch Review, The Los Angeles Review, Knockout, and others. His first book, He Do the Gay Man in Different Voices, is out from Sibling Rivalry Press. “My father reads my poem in a Chinese restaurant” was one of Stephen’s first poems ever published back in 2007. Stephen’s “The scientists don’t know why the whales are beaching themselves” and “Mistaken Identity” are also in Reprint.
Object(s) to bring back to life: “I’d bring back drinking in the office (like on Mad Men).”