The guests were seated
in suits and white afternoon dresses.
Smiles and nods and pleasant phrases.
Then he stood up and asked:
“Where is Mr. Gregory?”
as though that were not unusual or new.
The ladies froze in their seats.
The gentlemen looked away.
Gregory was not invited, no one dared to say.
But he was the host, after all, at any table.
A place was made, a new guest welcomed.
Convention shattered, hell broke loose,
order collapsed, tradition displaced.
The table overturned, the china broke to shards.
They all rushed inside, uninvited and unwashed,
diseased, common, baseborn,
the crowd of humanity—
ignorant and unmannered—given
a place at his table.
The tramp from the Bowery, the hotel maid,
the murderous fallen prince,
the lying brother who betrayed him,
the Ethiopian mother who can’t feed her child,
the father with his son at the border without papers,
the Armenian refugee on the ship in the harbor
who sees the Statue of Liberty and cries,
the Chinese peasant starving by government decree,
the Uyghur prisoner searching for his wife in the camp.
the black boy in Chicago smoking dope.
And Neda in Tehran, bleeding to death in the street,
the teenaged friends who dare not speak their love,
the drunk at the restaurant door begging a dollar,
the alcoholic brother, the psychotic niece,
the 44-year-old junkie holding on to life.
Four words made a place for them
at the stretched-out table, in the dining room
with the Persian carpets on the floor,
behind the glass doors,
down the long hallway,
under the bright chandeliers,
in the rich mansion on the avenue.
And i, the last to come in, late
as usual, carrying my bags,
mumbling excuses, looking at my shoes.
I have wasted my life, trying to do the right things,
stay in my lane on the freeway, obey the rules
posted on the classroom wall. I weep.
The rules were unwritten, whispered only to a few.
Hichi manam. I am nothing at the end.
At this table I confess it all. He will not listen.
Here, the Covenant will prevail:
“All things are of God.”
A flock of blackbirds darkens the sun,
swarms the laced concrete,
then disappears inside the Temple’s dome.