I’m in a booth where I chomp a chili burger
& slide fries through ketchup
& mustard: Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke” on the jukebox,
walls covered by signed photos—
Denzel Washington, Bill Cosby, President Obama—
the big screen TVs over humming iced tea
machines & chilled bins of sliced tomatoes,
lettuce & onions. I sit there the way I did
five years ago, when I showed a woman the city
on my birthday. I remember Tim, the short-order cook,
who saw me waiting, then saw my date
& nodded: Go sit with your lady, homie.
I’ll bring your order out.
He’s a ghost now—carjacked and shot,
scooping a friend from the subway
to work on a rap CD.
That year Death tore through the city
in his souped-up ride, racking up body counts
on his odometer. That year the other cooks suffered
quietly—Stevie singing loud as though his sounds
could drown out Tim’s jokes or his rap lyrics
replaying in their heads
while flipping burgers & slicing half-smokes.
That was the year Ben, who stayed open
through the ’68 riots, closed early.
I’m sitting here, staring at Tim’s photo
on the wall next to the dessert case.
I remember that date and the slice
of chocolate cake I bought her. She picked at it
until it disappeared the way she did
three days afterwards, with no explanation.
I see my reflection frowning in the mirror—wondering
if I could tie on an apron in Ben’s where
every day a ghost stares back from a taped photo
or like the cooks, reminisce and laugh
whenever Tim started on the mama jokes.