Words you will never hear
come from the old man
at the window table,
who endures here in the café
like an edifice of the ancient world,
eternal, stately even in ruins.
No, time is no object to him—
has not been, in fact,
since that day in ‘44
at the San Francisco veterans hospital
when the nurse (whom he had
mistaken, initially, for an angel)
conducted him on a tour of his body,
shrapnel scars, head trauma,
limp and all, and told him
his fighting days were over.
He was a practical man then,
as now, and he took it stoically,
settling into the business
of chuckling over a Marmaduke strip
with every ounce of determination
his young heart could muster.
So there he sits—Bill,
I think the waitress just called him—
playing a slow game of chess
with the invisible opponent of his life
while steam blooms and wilts
over the coffee cup's wide brim
and his practiced hands
prod gently, palpating the dark
flesh of his chocolate cake.
Beautiful women pass through
the slanting sun that curves
to either side of him;
he remains fixated on the crossword,
and on the impulse for a solution
which will later turn out to be "Credo".
And that is all there is for him:
just the meal, just the warmth,
just an earnest nonchalance.
And that is all I wish to be, too,
just a Rip van Winkle in
flannel and corduroy bedclothes
who watches the ovals of his
water glass, and waits,
and lets younger men
decide whether life
means anything or not.
Christopher Apfelbach's Other Poems
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