Jersey Diner

after Edward Hirsch

As he leafed through Meister Eckhart
and his tattered copy of Merton’s
The Way of Chuang Tzu under the diner’s

soft light, he side-glanced at the laminated menu
with its surfeit of options: Prime Rib, Fisherman’s
Basket, Greek Delight, matzo-ball soup,

and settled, as always, for a cheese omelet
with home fries and a Diet Coke from the fountain,
which his wife, long dead, said would kill him

if whisky didn’t kill him first. And why should
a 69-year-old man be out at 4:00 AM
searching in old books for the via negativa

that in his youth he hoped to intuit to end all sorrow?
You belong in a monastery, his mother, a
Lutheran, once said with disdain.

The waitress, an Irishwoman who called him honey,
dropped the seared eggs and potatoes onto
the paper mat with a half-finished word search

puzzle a few minutes later, just as Billie Holiday’s
molten voice oozed through the nickel juke.
I’m a fool to want you, she sang, correctly,

and outside, the light hinted at its arrival
in the cloud cover, tuning the sky a faint blue.
Soon it would assert its dominance and fissure

through the clouds, heat the asphalt,
ignite the snow-melt’s ruddy puddles as
hard hats swarmed the counter for breakfast.