Clearing    Away

	The Mexican restaurant across from my house
	is short-staffed these days.  Their dusty chalk sign
	directs me to seat myself, and I do, not waiting

	for the busboy to clear his dishes and crumpled dollars
	from the near corner table, and ignoring
	the couples muttering and nudging past me

	for empty seats near the bar.  I eat alone
	over Thanksgiving, keeping my eyes open
	and my chin down.  My grandfather taught me that

	when I was twelve, pinching me every time I passed by
	until I learned to edge around him, skimming my butt
	against the wet sides of the sink as I went to fetch

	more rolls.  My sister's job during dinner
	was to bring plastic milk pitchers full of beer
	from the basement whenever the adults finished off

	another gallon.  The previous year I had mistaken
	the jugs for apple juice and poured mugs full
	for my toddler cousins, and was no longer

	to be trusted.  After dinner, we cleared away
	the dishes while my grandfather told his holiday
	jokes, which all ended on the same jovial punchline -

	"those damn darkies."  I could see the side of his face
	reflected in the knife and plate my sister held as she stood
	over him.  He leaned back and looked at her for a moment,

	then asked for more coffee.  Ten years later,
	and my sister is gone, lost to her studies
	at a deep-woods Virginia school.  My grandfather

	is dead.  Why am I still here, sitting
	at a dirty table in a busy restaurant,
	with only other people's dishes to protect me?

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