James H Duncan

One Match Left


far from where it all began, far
from where most things begin,
he stood on the corner of the town square
near the small veterans memorial and watched
as the cars turned the corner and sailed
around the town square, disappearing beyond
the one-screen movie house

he had three matches and three cigars
and didn’t like the odds, so
he crossed and walked inside
the only café open on Sunday

there were no free tables, but the waitress
set him up at the small bar with a
fork, spoon, knife
all rolled into a white cloth napkin

for a long time nobody bothered
to come take his order, but he didn’t mind
he sat and watched the town eat, all of them
coming from farms and trailers and little ramshackle
cottages in rows just beyond the town square
all eating and talking about a million
things that people where he came from
would never imagine to talk about
simple things
beautiful in their natural blandness
like wind against
cornstalks in the morning

finally, he ate a chicken fried steak
that was bigger and thicker
than his plate, and left the last
of his cash under his water glass

the waitress who set him up asked where he
came from, and they talked a bit about the town,
where the cemetery was—three miles
due east, and then she said to come back
on a Saturday
everything is open on Saturday 

he said he would and left the café, walking down
past the one-screen movie house
it showed one movie per night at 7 p.m.
but he couldn’t wait that long, so he burned
through two matches to light a cigar
and walked due east into the coming
darkness
walking the gravel shoulder
of the highway
wondering
just why his grandfather
ever left this place
to begin with




(This poem previously appeared in the collection Dealing with the Devil in the Middle of the Road: New & Selected Poems.) 

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