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Black Seed by Black Seed

Every day the same people
at the same table
at the rear of the cafeteria.
The maiden, 35 at least,

is gray at the temples,
sour at the mouth.
The widow, 55, waves
a cigarette like a wand.

Girdled and dyed,
she needs no one now;
She ministers to a dog
and has a new apartment.

The accountant, 65, wants to retire,
his years of intemperance
tempered by a stroke,
his anger at everything

suddenly gone. The janitor, 60,
explains over and over
how over the weekend
he snipped from his garden

husks of dead sunflowers
and drove them out of the city
and into the forest
and there in a clearing

spread the black cakes
for chipmunks to strip,
black seed by black seed.
I, a young editor,

“with your whole life
in front of you,” they insist,
sit through it all,
Monday through Friday,

spooning broth, buttering slices
of rye, and praying that after
pudding again for dessert,
the phone on my desk

will explode too late
with a call I’ll take anyway,
and that after that call, I’ll rise
and take from my sport coat

a speech I wrote years ago,
a speech I’ll discard for two lines
off the cuff: “Here’s two weeks’ notice.
I have found a new job.”

 
 

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