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I wedge myself between a molded bench
and syrup-splattered formica.
The waitress caps her pen and grips the menu,
says she ain’t serving until I move
to another booth. She points to a wasp
clinging to the windowsill
just beyond the bottle of ketchup.
I crush the pest with my napkin and she hands me
the menu, wipes down the table.


I warm my hands on a mug of coffee
the color of earth and stare out the window.
Beyond the highway lies Klein Memorial’s
showroom in the grass. Sample stones,
nameless, graveless, just beyond the curb
where traffic roars. How many shop there
in advance? Is it unusual to browse their faux
burial yard, inquire if there are any specials,
or touch the stones in some indolent way?


The waitress returns, spilling coffee
and hollering at another customer.
She eyes the crushed remains of the insect.
“He in there?” she asks. I nod. She wraps
the napkin coffin in a paper towel vault,
and I am suffused with love and regret
as I watch this aproned pall bearer carry away
my prey. I eat my meal and pay the bill,
hang a left onto Highway 28. I do not stop.

Jeffrey N. Johnson’s poetry has been published in Birmingham Poetry Review, Red Rock Review, Roanoke Review, Dos Passos Review, South Carolina Review, and Gargoyle Magazine. He was awarded the Andrew Lytle Fiction Prize from the The Sewanee Review, and his novel, The Hunger Artist, was a finalist for the Library of Virginia’s People’s Choice Award. His first story collection, Other Fine Gifts was recently released. See more of his work at

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