Unrequited Menus

The Last Restaurant
by Richard Lehnert, from A Short History of The Usual

Somewhere in Tuscany, Provence, Oaxaca,
a restaurant you’ve never seen calls you
all your life, its menu unrequited —
a restaurant so good no one knows it.

It opens for one dinner only;
the officious maître d’ leads you
through the dining room’s underwater light
to a good table by a window.

The sounds of metal on china are small, precise,
from the kitchen a mysterious clank and hiss,
an unparsable syntax of smells.
The waitress is young, tall, forgetful;
her red wine tastes like old books.

She drifts off, and the room slowly fills:
two former lovers gaze in each other’s eyes
as you once looked, separately, in theirs;
your parents, who don’t recognize you;

an African woman and man in crisp white,
fresh from their mass grave’s blank dignity;
your brother, the wounds that killed him
almost healed, sits with your dead wife,
her hair grown back, parted in a new place.

The room is small, but soon the familiar heads
of everyone you’ve hurt, lost, cared nothing for
bow over menus, look up to ask about specials,
ponder the great dualities: animal or vegetable,
wine or water; later or now.

You eavesdrop and never hear your name,
but then someone’s eye meets yours
and he smiles; your mother asks your father
if you’re someone they know; he squints at you,
turns to her and shrugs, complains about the prices.
This is as far as you ever get.
But someday the waitress will remember
and return with her plate of bread and oil
to ask one of three riddles:

Do you know what you want?
Would you like more time?
Are you ready?