Pop off any highway: The daily specials color-float green
and red on erasable boards read like this:
Meatloaf & Home-style Mashed Potatoes (w/dinner salad) $4.95
Sam’s Chicken Pot Pie (w/dinner salad) $4.95
Helen’s Pattie Melt w/ Fries $3.95
Squiggly lines separate flipped-fried fare like farm-plots
divvied up from native ground thieved.
Plastic plates deeply scratched (but unbreakable) flanked
by child-sized flatware rolled in paper napkins
and Coca-Cola sipped in ruby-red plastic tumblers:
This is the church of the united state of holy conversation
between the bread of life: The chicken club, the BLT,
tuna-on-toast, and the de-luxe plates of chicken fried steak.
No silk-mouthed conversion here, but a gathered mass
of flannelled small-talk, of seed strains and foreclosure,
of blight, rodents, rodeos, and local elections.
They share names of town kids deployed, couples engaged
and the current wake at Sheets Funeral Home this week.
Seated on vinyl and chrome and in booths etched with dates
and names, elbows wing across Formica. Red and yellow bottles
are squeezed over burgers and fries under the flag tacked
to mock knotty-pine paneling. A Baptist church calendar hangs
behind the register, and a chipped china bowl holds cellophaned
mints. The waitress wears a nametag but the regulars already know
her, her parents, and all five of her kids. She’d fill coffee mugs
till they overflowed if she could for the laborers—
the deep-rooted grangers in farm-couture: Tractor hats,
fertilizer brand cotton tees and sienna-brown Carhartts in winter.
Here is the community: The mustached itinerant cook,
migrant busboy, the dishwasher in back, and Joe
and Tom and Cletis and Arty and Bob
sipping coffee for hours, and the waitress, O the waitress,
the holy mother-of-the-meeting-house,
(the one we’ll miss most when she’s gone) picks up
the tips left under plates and coffee mugs, counting
the hours left of her shift.
~ ~ ~
Judith Roney’s fiction, essays, and poetry have appeared in numerous publications. Field Guide for a Human was a 2015 finalist in the Gambling the Aisle chapbook contest. Her poetry collection, According to the Gospel of Haunted Women, received the 2015 Pioneer Prize. A memoir piece, “My Nickname was Frankenstein,” is nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She confesses to an obsession with the archaic and misunderstood, dead relatives, and collects vintage religious artifacts and creepy dolls. She teaches creative writing at the University of Central Florida, and is a staff poetry reader for The Florida Review.