Old Man Eating Alone in a Chinese Restaurant

for Billy Collins

I can’t resist the temptation
to write about you, old man,
eating alone at the corner table in a Chinese restaurant,
always at the same time in the late afternoon.

This place is clean, and I’ve seen him always
sitting there with his simple meal,
rice or noodles, different vegetables, black mushrooms,
depending on his mood or maybe the day of the week.

He reads, sometimes, for the place is well-lighted,
writes or has those earbuds in to listen to music,
the kind of person who would have an eclectic mix
of rock, pop, jazz, blues, country, classical.

Today he’s reading, looks like a murder mystery,
makes him look up, seem unhappy occasionally.
I see it’s Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon;
he loves animals and detests bull fighting.

Must we always see all sides? I have to write this down
while it’s fresh in my mind, capture the now
in case he never, for some reason suddenly,
comes here to eat again, disappears.

I jot a few notes, then stop to wonder,
bent forward in the sunset glare,
how he handles his hatred of cruelty to living things,
and I reflect on my image in the window’s glass.

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