The Kitchen Table

by Geoff Jones

This is the field of battle… That place
Where life is lived… Where lives evolve
Into whatever they are intended to
Be… This 5’ X 5’ stage on which dinner
Is served and gladly eaten day after day…
Year after year… In heartbreak and joy…

A mother and father smile gratefully as
A son and a daughter blankly stare at
Plates piled high with food… As each is
Unaware of the atrocities and the toil
That parents endure to produce a
Platter of burgers and fries… The son
Blurts out that he’s tired of burgers…
But he’ll learn to be thankful one day
When a sandwich or a slice of pizza in a
Dorm room will be treated like a feast…
You reap what you sow… One day he’ll
Understand…

The TV is an unwelcome distraction…
It wasn’t always this way… There once
Was a time when politicians and pundits
Offered comfort with glad tidings and
Assurances that the world was on the
Right track… But then Kennedy was shot…
And Viet Nam was served tableside in
Living color… Then Watergate… And
9/11… Then a virus strikes … And things
Have changed… Maybe forever…

And the news is bad… Night after night…
Pleasant faces with theatrical voices share
Tragic stories of illness and panic with
Casual ease and a becoming smile…
Tragedy and misfortune presented as
Light entertainment to take the edge off
The reality of our plight…How did we ever
Get here… See the USA in a Chevrolet…
But be prepared for what you’re likely to
See… The son and daughter bicker at
The table over who gets the car for the
weekend…

Some things never change as a bully
With a phony tan and a portfolio of lies
Professes to have all the answers while
Being interrogated on TV by a reporter
Who looks like she’s twelve years old…
Next up is a balding relic who screams
And blusters over the way things are while
Suggesting that everything in the world
Should be free… And then there’s sleepy
Eyed Joe… Where have all the leaders
Gone… Come out, come out wherever
You are… Come out with your hands up…
There are no good choices, really… Only
Bad to worst…

The son and the daughter escape the
Table and climb the stairs to their
Bedrooms to study like good boys and
Girls… The mother and father drearily
Clear away the dishes while the TV
Reporter squanders away the minutes
In pursuit of an honest answer from the
Big Orange or the blustering purveyor
Of pipe dreams… Mother and father
Know it’s not worth their while to do
A deep dumpster dive into the mind of
A stable genius or a wandering fossil
From Woodstock… In either case, they
Know they’d come up empty-handed…

It’s 12:15 in the morning and mother
Tosses and turns beneath crisp cotton
Sheets with a book in her hands while
Consumed in fear over the whereabouts
Of her daughter who won a coin flip for
The use of the family car… Her head
Rests on a pillow only inches away from
The phone that she prays will not deliver
The one call that every parent dreads…
She won’t sleep until the headlights shine
Through the drapes… Finally she hears
The car door slam… Mother closes her
Eyes and drifts off… Father sits alone at
The kitchen table and nods in the direction
Of his daughter while deferring until
Morning the lecture he knows that he
He owes her for being late…

He sips a cup of tea while running his
Fingers through his hair… A stack of bills
And college catalogues are spread over
The surface of the table… He shuffles the
Papers like a deck of cards in a game of
Solitaire that will determine what bills not
To pay… His son goes off to college in the
Fall and that will be a struggle… The hollow
Sound of a basketball on the driveway
Reports that the son is safely home…

The son grumbles something in the
Direction of father before disappearing
Upstairs… The faint smell of sweat and
Stale beer lingers in the kitchen… Father
Shakes his head… He doesn’t like this
Much, but he knows there is nothing
That will stand between his son and a
Six pack of beer in September… Parents
Must know when it’s time to let go…
Father says nothing as the TV flickers
In the background with indifference…
While a reporter recites the dimensions
Of the disease…

Father’s mind wanders off to an office
Party tomorrow night… Where he’ll hang
Out with people he hardly knows in a city
He despises… Where he will share
Hors d’oeuvres in a local bar… While
The deer and the antelope mingle with
Moguls and the homeless people who
Live on the side streets near St. Pat’s…

He dreads the party and hopes it will be
Cancelled… But he knows that someone’s
Gotta’ pay for tuition in the fall… And so
He’ll endure… He’ll smile and make small
Talk when he’d rather be home with a
Beer in his hand… And that’s just the way
It is… He sends up a silent prayer that the
Party will be scratched in an abundance
Of caution as uncertainty reigns…

Mother joins him at the table… She
Couldn’t sleep… They don’t say much…
They don’t have to… That’s the beauty
Of intimacy… Sometimes silence says
It all…

News of a world in peril scrolls across
The bottom of the screen… Strength with
Slight commitment… Leadership without
Resolve… They turn the volume up for
Perspective… And in an instant, things
Seem different than just a moment
Before… Surreal… Disturbing… Dire and
Sublime… Shelter in place… Nothing
Surprises them anymore… But they’re
Equal to the task…They’ve been through
Worse in their lifetime… Life is a team
Sport… Two is greater than one… One
World…

They trade an honest glance while deriving
A sense of purpose in the eye of the storm…
A conviction that there are answers for
Everything… A solution for every problem…
And a sense of order to be crafted from
Chaos and treaties negotiated with God… All
Will be well they agree… As long as there are
Kitchen tables to gather around at midnight
No matter the scale of the challenge that
Lies ahead… The children are sound asleep
Upstairs… And what else really matters…
And even if only for a moment… All is calm…
All is bright… As life goes on… And on…
And on…

 

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