Richmond, Virginia, 1955
He had been waiting in the booth
for half an hour, too polite to speak
out, to speak out loud to the waitresses,
busy with busywork, lips chattering,
puffed-up with conceit, trying hard
to avoid eye contact with him.
He was neatly dressed: black & gray
tweed jacket, white shirt, charcoal slacks.
A small Bible lay open on the table.
He had already read the menu.
But the smiles he had come in with
dissolved with tears he tried to hide.
I slid off the stool, picked up my coffee,
and sauntered toward the juke box
near where he sat. I said hello.
Asked him his name; what he was reading.
He stuttered Joe; mumbled something about proverbs,
The one who conceals hatred has lying lips.
Told him I was a preacher; wondered if I could
join him. He shrugged, said okay. I shouted
to Mabel, our waitress, to take my friend Joe’s order.
Postscript: Waffle House was among the first eateries
to integrate after its founding in 1950s Atlanta.