Breakfast at the Road Runner Cafe
by William Notter
CAFE still burning in neon after sunup,
and a bird's gangly silhouette stretched out
with speed—the sign draws me in.
The walls inside are hung with Spanish prayers,
kachina dolls, chili pepper bundles,
and a three-foot Christ sanctifies relief
from the bluster of New Mexico spring.
The waitress brings coffee and cream.
The gaunt, mustachioed cook
whets his spatula against the grill
scrambling huevos Mexicanos
with chopped green chilies, tomatoes, onion,
tortillas and beans on the side.
A whiskered man at the counter brags
to the waitress about the money he can make
selling copper wire for scrap,
and how he drank thirteen beers
the night before, and wasn't even drunk.
Highway patrolmen talk knockdown power
and calibers, a courthouse blown apart
by a fertilizer bomb in the back of a truck.
A skittish Navajo woman, Drug Free and Proud
printed on her shirt, opens a letter
and swirls ice cubes with her butter knife.
The letter might be from a son locked up
for stealing cars in Albuquerque,
a power disconnect notice, or news
her sister died of exposure out in the hills.
Maybe she's just back to the world
from a stay in detox, chewing ice
to keep from thinking she could walk downtown
and be served a bottle of gin
or eighth-ounce bag of weed
as easily as eggs and toast.
A stranger can only say so much
in the open noise of sputtering grease,
small talk, spoons clacking in coffee mugs.
If she can just hold tight to something,
those cravings will disappear the way wind
blows mountains of cloud across the sky.
She could find comfort in a place like this,
the silvery riffle of cottonwood leaves outside,
a novena candle flickering by the door
to keep Jesus lit at night, find pleasure
in good food and desert light across the tables.
The woman lays a few bills down
by her plate of half-eaten eggs,
and walks outside to the payphone.
She holds her black hair with one hand
against the lashing wind. What can a stranger say?
The Santa Fe's red and yellow engines
come thrumming west beside the highway
as I go out the door. Hang on. She turns
and I shout again, Just hang on.
Past the train is sandstone sunbleached yellow,
knobby juniper clutching at the hills.