Elderly person

Sitting there alone at your table

So quietly, so still, so evidently thoughtful,

Gazing out the window

Not at distance but at…years?

You are but one of several oldsters here this morning

Each sitting alone, having breakfast alone,

Not looking at the others.

Will I be one of you in ten or fifteen years?

Or tomorrow?

Who are you?

I see now that you are a woman

Of late sixties or more;

I couldn’t even discern your gender

Until I saw your lipstick;

Your too-short thinning gray hair

And craggy face and large frame

And slacks and sweater with padded elbows

Gives you that certain genderless look,

So I bid you a silent apology

For being at first unable to credit you

With your most essential self, your gender;

Until that was clear you could have been

One of those aging, lost, college professors

Or a suburban recluse, anonymous now in retirement;

Having recognized your sex I wonder

Are you a farmer’s widow now living in town

Waiting to die? Where is your family?

Why are you here having breakfast alone at Hardees?

Breakfast ought to be a social time,

Shared with at least…somebody.

Who are you?

What are you thinking of

As you sit there so quietly, hardly moving

No breakfast in front of you?

Did you already finish and bus your own table

To the trash bin according to fast food joint custom

Before I got here, or

Are you being reflective and alone

Before you decide to go order?

What are you thinking of?

Does your mind go back over years

To memories of children born and reared

And now scattered across faraway states?

To some long ago lover who would have thrilled you

If you had not, now to your regret,

Said No, holding to some Puritan ethic

That seemed important at the time?

Or are you just wondering

How to pay your heating bill this winter?

What are you thinking of?

Who were you? Who are you now?

Ah, how easily we misperceive and misjudge

For I see now an elderly man is joining you

Obviously your man, presumably your husband

Because he joins you with that easy

Coming together without words or acknowledgement

That is a product of taking each other’s presence

For granted over many, many years.

He walks with a jaunty gait for an old fellow,

Moving light and sure on the long legs

That support his ample belly.

He has good humor creases around his mouth and eyes.

Seeing him tells me so much more about you.

Wasn’t he always the tease, the dynamic rascal,

And you always the serious one, the still water?

You seemed so alone only because he wasn’t with you,

Because he took so long getting here with your breakfast

Because the fast food line was long this morning

With old and young and families and people alone.

There is no telling how many happy and sad memories

You and he share, going back over the long years

Of your lives together.

How presumptuous and how very mistaken

Were my earlier perceptions and speculations about you.

Now that I perceive the truth

(or am I still presumptuously missing it?)

I wonder a whole new, different set of questions

About you and he in your presumed lifetime together;

I wonder about your youth, your courtship,

Your early childrearing years together,

Your mutual lifestyle and occupation and where you live…

Until, wisely, I decide to stop it altogether,

To cease my silent intrusions on your deserved privacy;

Go on, share your quiet private breakfast together.

And I, I too shall finish up my own

Breakfast at Hardees, alone,

Then I’ll leave here.




Don Coffey

October 1988


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