“Any Style” by Jack Grapes

Jack Grapes


Lord, I’m 500 miles from home,
you can hear the whistle blow a hundred miles.
—Peter, Paul, and Mary

Driving west out of El Paso,
the sun coming up behind me,
I look for a diner or roadside café
off the main highway.
Maybe I’ll just follow those dust clouds
that cars coming the other way
leave in their wake.
Maybe it’ll be
just a scratched Formica counter
and a waitress wearing
jeans and a T-shirt.
“Eggs any style,” I tell her,
waiting to see if she gets it—
the joke, I mean—but she doesn’t.
“Anything on the side?” she asks.
“Yeah,” I say, studying
the menu as if it were
that calculus final I barely passed.
“Yeah, gimme the bacon,
the hash browns,
… you got grits?”
I look up from the menu
and admire her frontage.
After seven hours driving
in the dark, then heaving away
from the sun, the mouth waters
for the old breakfast roadside
standbys: toast, butter,
greasy bacon and eggs.
And frontage.
The urge rises from my toes,
through my stomach and into my chest,
the urge to reach out and touch them,
those well-fed breasts
inside that hefty bra
inside that white T-shirt.
“Yeah,” she says, moving the eraser
of the pencil back and forth
behind her ear, “we got grits.”
“I’m up for grits,” I say,
making the word grits sound
like I’d already eaten a mouthful.
She shifts her weight from one leg
to the other, writes on the pad,
then says it
—what I came in here for
in the first place,
not the food,
but to hear her say the words:
“Three eggs,
any style,
side a bacon,
side a hash browns,
side a grits.”
I almost swoon,
almost lean
across the counter
and place my head
between her breasts,
almost blurt out that I love her,
that I’ve been loving her
all night long—
loving her as I drove through the darkness
on this two lane highway
filled with nothing
but tractor trailers
and 18-wheelers
and tank trucks and boom trucks
and freight liners and box vans,
two-ton stake trucks
and Scammell ballast tractors,
not to mention the flatbeds
and the pick-ups,
all heading west,
just like me.
I want to tell her
that I love her
right now, here in this diner,
thirty miles west of El Paso,
and will always love her,
love her to my dying day,
love her any style,
side a bacon,
side a hash browns,
side a grits.
But I don’t.
The sun’s already breaking
the water glasses on the counter,
rousting the silverware,
dashing the flies to the floor
where they languish in the heat.
Five-hundred miles to go
before I hit L.A.,
before I take the big curve
where the I-10 turns north
under the overpass,
and heads up the Pacific Coast Highway,
white beaches to my left,
brown cliffs to my right.
Five-hundred miles to go.
“Yeah,” I say, “that should do it,
and gimme an order
of wheat toast, butter, jelly,
jam, marmalade with those
little pieces of citrus fruit
and rind, and coffee,
thick black coffee,
coffee that’s been sitting
in the pot for days,
just bring the whole pot,
and sugar, lots of sugar,
and cream, lots of cream.”
Then she sticks the pencil
in her hair behind her ear
and looks at me, finally.
“Mr. Poet,” she says,
smiling as the sun
begins to creep up
across her face.
“Yep,” I say, relaxing
onto the stool
and putting both elbows
on the counter,
“I’m Mr. Poet,
and I got
lots of poems,
any style you want,
side a bacon,
side a hash browns,
side a grits.”

from Rattle #52, Summer 2016
Tribute to Angelenos


Jack Grapes: “I moved to Los Angeles from New Orleans in the winter of 1969, looking out of my unfurnished apartment at the rain that lasted for weeks. Welcome to sunny California, I thought. I came west because my comedy partner and I were selected to star in a Saturday morning TV series, but familiar story … it didn’t pan out. But I stayed, working as an actor. For about three years, I was still a New Orleans poet. The humidity was in my bones, and I had trouble writing during the day. Too much sunshine. But gradually the city took me over. I fell in love with the freeways. Ask me how to get anywhere, I knew the route. My friends called me Freeway Man. I drove everywhere. Loved the sense of freedom, the feeling I could be everywhere at once, and nowhere. That’s Elay. I’ve been an Elay boy for over 45 years. From Pico and Sepulveda to Western and Olympic. Don’t fence me in.” (website)

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