Volume 28, Number 2

Filling Up at the Moonlight

The windows of the Moonlight Chinese Buffet
are shrouded by stained curtains hanging on hooks
and condensation. The window ledges are deep-set
as the restaurant is housed in an old strip mall—
housed? more like confined, or assigned to,
the ledges calling for an enticing vignette,
mannequins draped in this year's fashions,
artwork on brass pedestals, or now, neon signs.
But between the sun-faded curtains of the Moonlight
Buffet and the sweaty glass lurks an empty space,
an empty space with weight, an empty space
which calls attention to its presence, an empty
space which assaults everyone who enters.
I hurt so badly for these people who clearly
know no better. Where are they from?
Migrant workers from a village in Guangdong Province
who risked the ocean's wide spaces to find,
remarkably, a home in small town USA?
I don't know. I'm like all the others.
I've only come to eat. Eat well. Plate after plate.
Spring rolls, lo mein, shrimp, ginger beef.
And what about this red skinned chicken skewered?
The boy who works the cash is twelve years old.
The cook who refills the trays of food has a bright,
sweat-covered face. The woman who seats us
and brings our tea says yes a lot and smiles.
I can't help but stare at the tiles of the dropped ceiling,
which feel like they're about to drop further.
They draw my eyes more than the grimy walls,
again with no artwork, just old paint, grease stains,
but, my god, for $9.99 the food is great.
Over on the wall near the boy who waits
for customers to pay, maybe while he does
his homework, is scrawled one word, Pray.
Customers have been offered post-it notes
in varied colors. I see this as we're leaving,
each note curled out from the exit wall like a ragged
prayer flag, and feel warm with the modest effort
by this family to create a space to draw us all together.
I want my dad off Oxycontin, reads one.
I pray Jesus looks like me, another.
Xbox One, iPad Pro, iPad Air.
Too few pray for health, happiness, love.
Some just pray a name.
A few, more than I care to admit,
n—, C—, f— and p—,
which I take and palm as I'm leaving. My hand feels dirty.

—Erin Wilson