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In the Assisted Living Cafeteria

ISSUE:  Fall 2004

Glancing out from our corner table
across the assisted living facility’s
cafeteria, my mother-in-law
Shirley says, “Why, there are no men here!”

And she’s right, almost. Two or three men
can be picked out from among the foursomes
and sixsomes of silver-haired ladies working
on their brunch of orange roughy and glazed ham.

If you didn’t look closely—that is,
closely enough to see the age-mottling,
the wrinkles, the thinning scalps, the way
the bones themselves seem to have shortened,

thickening and telescoping the fleshy
limbs—you might see little girls at a birthday
party, with the servers as moms bringing
them slices of pie and bowls of ice cream.

If you didn’t look closely, you might
notice only the lightness of their curls,
as though the room were crowded not with
people at their last stop before the nursing

home, but instead the carefree young,
so cheerful their conversation, so brief
their attention span, you might look and
find them, in their play, suddenly gone.


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