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The Marjorie E. Peale Prize

Mary Hutchins Harris

 

Waiting to Be Served

Caught between the need for anonymity
and for not having my back to the door,
I chose to sit in the Crippled Crab,
first booth as you walk in, with a view
of windows, past the fanlight, the styrofoam
to-go boxes stacked behind the register,
only to become drawn to the door,
but not to watch who comes and goes,
people I will never see again, but instead
to sit in wonder at the sea scene etched
into the' glass inset, the seaweed rising
from the door frame like Medusa's hair,
tickling the fins of fish who swim around
the mermaid, guard her from their kind
with sharper teeth—caught in a fit of fin envy,
her tail scalloped from hips to upturned fin,
half again as long as her body, naked
and unafraid of fish lips, although not
as beautiful as to mortals surreptitiously
observing how she holds a tendril of hair
as it floats on clear glass, so close to the one
breast turned away from the door knob,
its nipple so distinct, I wonder if she is cold
in this air-conditioned restaurant, or if
she knows more about the red roses sitting
on the windowsill than she is willing to tell.