Driving home from work on an ordinary everyday
afternoon with not enough time
no chicken in the fridge and a little league game to get to
late as usual on 287 south the traffic slows
around a huge flatbed trailer with WIDE LOAD signs
draped around it, probably another modular home
on its way to contaminate a landscape somewhere, but no.
Suddenly I’m right behind it, and it turns out to be
an entire diner, one tiny chrome art deco room,
rounded edges glittering in the sun. The scale is not quite
right: too large for any model train world and yet
too small for real life. The cook who flips pancakes
could surely reach across the counter and
lean his weight against the opposite wall while waiting
for the bubbles to rise to the surface of the batter.
The entire building sits on the truck like a package
being shipped, a present wrapped in silver
waiting to be opened. The back end hangs a little
off the truck as the screen door hangs ajar,
banging open and closed while a giant sign
taped to the window flutters in the wind,
its big handpainted letters reading
WE LOVE YOU GOODBYE.
Tied to the door handle, a big bouquet of helium balloons,
multicolored, mostly deflated, hovers half-aloft,
the balloons banging against each other,
pulling towards the back of the truck but not escaping.
WE LOVE YOU GOODBYE just like that.
And the regulars who came to sit in front of their coffee
each morning and figure out how to survive the day,
knowing that at least their bran muffin or hash browns
or egg over easy were on the way,
who ordered grilled reubens or Greek salads or cheeseburgers
with onion rings for lunch and knew that they could free the day
for an hour, who came to find a safe place for tea and lemon
in the afternoon, or banana creme pie at night, and talk of
the husband the job the teenager the hospital the cat….
all of those people will see the empty rectangle of earth
in the center of the asphalt, and know that
nothing will ever really grow there again.
White Mana, in Hackensack, New Jersey, fortunately, is still right where it belongs. But it’s about the size of the diner in the poem. If you have a chance to stop there, don’t pass it up. The whole place fits maybe ten or 15 people, and it’s always crowded. But everybody’s willing to wait. The onions on the grill smell incredible. The girl whose dad owns this iconic lunch stop is a former student of mine; she flipped burgers while creating incredible art works all through high school. Sometimes our seniors went there for lunch; they were always late for their afternoon class.