Why would anyone be the last couple lingering in the corner of a bar,
swirling the last sip of wine,
the last hint of crimson that’s barely drinkable,
when servers are sweeping their sections,
when the restaurant’s closed—
unless their hearts brim with the common minutiae of youth, or
they’re lovers cheating on their spouses,
placing a chin on the other’s shoulder
the way servers know married couples never do in restaurants,
not even celebratory occasions.
An anniversary dinner is sufficient if a bottle of wine is
shared throughout the meal, the bottle turned upside down
in the wine bucket is a make-shift hourglass when it’s time to leave,
to bring the check & dessert to-go, as they need
to relieve the babysitter.
This is what you learn from married couples
while cracking lobster, who ask if you attend the local university,
if this is just part-time work
to give you a sense of responsibility.
You remove the meat
from the claws & tail & knuckles, rake the joints
to the edge of the tray & stuff the tail’s shell into the carcass,
presenting the meat, the generous dish of clarified butter still steaming.
You enjoy cracking lobster especially for these moments, though
you’d rather loosen your tie, fold your apron
& join co-workers for a beer on the patio
because it’s what you do in the service industry—
sit around a table just sprayed free of muck
stuck between the table slats & laugh remembering
how you slipped carrying drinks but managed not to spill a drop.
You’re hailed a super-server, a model employee,
a person of interest should a lawyer arrive subpoena in hand for you to testify
because you’ve witnessed a couple coupling at the bar
who shouldn’t have
it’s confirmed. So you think
who is this person who’s called you to testify?
Perhaps a woman you waited on once,
who sat alone at a small table for two, in full view of the bar, watching them:
he brushing his nose against her cheek, & she darting a tongue at his earlobe.
You’re cracking her lobster as she sits staring,
as if each second ticking by is another room cordoned off in her heart.
You struggle removing the meat, the carapace having grown so hard
you have to hack it apart, ripping & plying flesh from the walls,
you know so much will remain glued inside the claws & hope she doesn’t mind.
You ask if she’d like to save tomalley leaking from the body,
but she’s no longer a woman indulging delicacies, you presume,
sensing how she seems to be rinsed of a former sweetness
evident in how frown lines crowd her eyes & mouth, what little lasted of youthfulness
vanishing when she tells you no, take the body away, so you do,
placing it with the rest of the broken parts you’ve collected,
leaving a mound of tattered meat she begins to eat slowly,
before you’ve even packed up the serving stand & hoisted the tray on your shoulder.
You see her one last time while you’re at the tank struggling
so terribly with a lobster you have to snare it with your bare hands.
She passes by not making eye contact, but watches you grab it by the abdomen to calm its thrashing.
Maybe she turned to witness you walk it back to the kitchen, to its death.
Though, it’s likely she left needing no confirmation,
having already known everything she suspected.
Darius Stewart was born in Knoxville, TN, in 1979. He holds degrees from The University of Tennessee and the Michener Center for Writers (a B.A. and an M.F.A., respectively). He has been previously anthologized in two volumes of The Southern Poetry Anthology series, The Best Gay Poetry 2008. He’s been published elsewhere in Callaloo, The Seattle Review, Meridian, and dozens of other journals. He has authored three chapbooks: The Terribly Beautiful (2006), Sotto Voce (2008) and The Ghost the Night Becomes (2014). He bartends for a living because it makes more money than teaching, and lives with two dogs: Fry (his) and Waffles (his housemate’s, who doesn’t think he’s an artist, but he is).