Lady at the Counter
By: Sara Ries Dziekonski
(for women who walk alone at night)
Sisty scuffles into our diner
with her usual bouquet of bags,
orders iced coffee
in the dead of winter.
She unlids a new batch of questions.
Today she wants to know
what I think about when I swim,
what my parents are like,
if anything about my childhood
bothers me, if I laughed a lot,
what I found funny.
I grab more ice for her coffee.
She orders a second steak dinner, says
When I’m upset, I eat, boots crying
dirty snow tears onto her bags.
I have ice cream most nights, I tell her
so as to make her feel better.
She presses her palms together,
leans her chin on her fingertips, says
When my mother died, I ate a half-gallon
of ice cream, and for a while,
I did that every morning.
I serve her steak, pop a roll in the microwave,
fetch a handful of gold-wrapped butter pats.
She says I don’t drive.
I like to walk, alone.
I just walk and walk, sometimes all day.
I know, because I see her all the time,
sometimes at three in the morning.
One night, as I’m eating my shift meal,
I spot her lumbering down Elmwood Avenue,
bags bouncing off her thick thighs,
hatless, so her short grey hair
is dusted with snowflakes.
Maybe you, like me, think
she’s a woman walking alone at night,
she must want company.
I run outside and invite her in.
Skin shining with the glow of streetlight,
she says, smiling, Thanks for asking,
but I’m in my own little world.
Sara Ries, a Buffalo native, holds an MFA in poetry from Chatham University, where she received the Best Thesis in Poetry Award. Her first book, Come In, We're Open, which she wrote about growing up in her parents’ diner, won the Stevens Poetry Manuscript Competition and was published in June 2010 by the NFSPS Press. Her poem, “Fish Fry Daughter,” was selected by Ted Kooser for his American Life in Poetry column. Ries taught composition and literature at Erie Community College for five semesters before moving to South America to teach EFL for SENA, Colombia’s public university. Her chapbook, Snow Angels on the Living Room Floor, was released in December 2018 by Finishing Line Press. Her poems have appeared in Slipstream, The Buffalo News, Blue Collar Review, LABOR: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas, Words Without Walls: Writers on Addiction, Violence, and Incarceration, and Earth’s Daughters, among others.