The Man in the Diner

The Man in the Diner bribes me with a quarter
spun expertly between thumb and forefinger
across the booth’s slick tabletop, where it winds down
against the interference of the naked wrist
poking out of my coat sleeve.
“You never saw me,” he says with a wink.

This is our first intimacy.
The measly quarter bribe was misleading;
suddenly we are so rich that never again
will we return home to a house cold and darkened
because of an unpaid electric bill.

You shop where all the neighborhood wives shop;
not for you the past mortification of coming home
one evening to find that church members have sneaked in
and filled our living room with boxes of food.

Months later I break in your new washer for you,
on my back, legs spread indecently as The Man in the Diner
(who has morphed into my step-dad)
takes what you’ve implied is his, amid the
combined odors of wet diapers, stinky socks and bleach,
the burning thrusts trailblazing an underground route
to my most private self to which he will return
again and again.

The Man in the Diner morphs yet again
into The Man in the Bathtub.
Steam rises from the bathwater, turning my face and neck clammy
as my hands clench the washcloth to perform
their hated chore of scrubbing his naked back.
His erection skims the water’s surface like a playful porpoise,
then bobbles up as friskily as if we are two playmates
enjoying a day’s frolic at the beach.

Now decades later here we are,
here you are, this frail old woman everyone pretends never had any power,
but you did; your power consisted of handing over your power
so that you could say with a straight face, “There is no blood on my hands.”

I am the odd man out, the hold out at family gatherings,
and everyone too polite or not wanting to hear the truth
to ask why I absent myself, why I prefer to stay home alone,
driven to the depths of black despair you’ll never know
because it wasn’t you, it was me on top of that washer, or cornered
in the hallway, or brutalized in the bathroom
before wobbling off to the school bus on shaky,
sperm-blotched legs.

It wasn’t you, it was me he was after
and you’ve never forgiven me that.
Now here you are playing The Victim, as if you were any such thing
as if you’ve earned that title.

You see what you’ve done or, no, you don’t, but I do.
You’ve even robbed me of the right and need to be The Victim
long enough to grieve and keen and beat my breast and,
finally, to heal.

I want to scream at you until my voice is as raw
as my once mutilated genitals
but your steps are faltering now,
your dementia a shield against hot accusations.

Decades have passed since you sold your soul
and your children’s innocence
for middle-class security,
yet sometimes when I burp
it’s not from food that’s disagreed with me,
it’s the rising bile of bleach and wet diapers and mushroomy sperm,
ambiance of a little girl’s rape.

The Man in the Diner


Happy Valley, United States

  • Artist
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