The best angel I ever saw was a waitress
at the Cozy Café on Belmont, North Side
of Chicago, 1983. She was kind to me
during my hangover, brought me biscuits
and gravy, told me about her parent’s place
in West Virginia where she went on long
weekends just to get away from the city.
There was a swing on the porch. A windmill
that summoned cold water from a deep well.
There was a mixed breed dog that had lost
a leg to a train. There were train whistles
in the distance and locomotive smoke rising
above the pine trees at the edge of her parents’
property. As she talked about it, I wanted
to go with her, lose myself in those fields
and pastures, in those dread hollows
where sometimes the angels come down
after dusk to drink ordinary air and to speculate
about the tiny lives of humans, how they don’t
understand the vast distances between stars
in those constellations they claim with
words like dipper or hunter, believing
that somehow naming the numinous
made it knowable, familiar, even beautiful.
The waitress’s name was Shirley. She had
dirty blonde hair tied back in a ponytail.
A stuffed largemouth bass stared down
at us from above the breakfast bar. Beyond
the big front window, traffic streamed
by in the morning light, tail pipes smoking
in the cold. Half of the patrons in the café held
burning cigarettes, gestured at friends, poked
bright holes in the space we shared, and grey
smoke rose like blighted cumuli. In those
days, I never looked up.
Jesse Millner’s poems have appeared most recently in Grist and Book of Matches. His latest poetry book, “Memory’s Blue Sedan”, is available from Hysterical Books.