While Reading Billy Collins at Bandera’s Best Restaurant, Words Come to Me


While Reading Billy Collins at Bandera’s Best Restaurant, Words Come to Me

And having no other paper at hand,
I scrawl on a dollar bill, “I want to speak
the language of smoke.” My invisible friend
interrupts. That is a white man’s dilemma.

 At least you have a dollar and a pen.
“But I’m only half-white,” I reply, “with half
the privilege.” Then you must bear double
the burden,
he says. This version of math

twists my intestines into a Gordian knot,
as does the concept of half equals twice,
or in terms I might better comprehend,
one beer equals four when divided by color

or accent and multiplied by projection.
The unsmiling waitress delivers my rib-eye
as I’m dressing the salad, and the check appears
just after the first bites of medium-rare beef

hit my palate, certainly before I can answer the
never-voiced question “would you like dessert?”
Cheese cake, I would have said. Or cobbler. And I
seldom turn down a second beer. This too, I’m told,

is another example of my unearned entitlement. I
contemplate this statement, scribble a few other
phrases on bills, drop them on the table, and walk out,
wondering which direction to take, which to avoid.

* * *

“While Reading Billy Collins at Bandera’s Best Restaurant, Words Come to Me” was a finalist last fall for the Slippery Elm Prize in Poetry. It was published in Slippery Elm (print only) in December 2017. You may be amused to hear that last October I had lunch in Bandera with one of the other finalists in this competition, but not at the restaurant featured in the poem. The photo is of a local bar, not the eatery, but it offers some of the flavor of the town.

34 thoughts on “While Reading Billy Collins at Bandera’s Best Restaurant, Words Come to Me

  1. I delighted in this, Bob — the first italicized comments from your “invisible friend” made me laugh out loud. Thanks for helping start my day with good humor. As a white gay female, I think my one-third privilege may be canceled by the two-thirds not. Hedging my bets, I will have a beer. 🙂 (Also, I’m pretty sure age cancels privilege, at least in this country.)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Cate. I’ll be the first to acknowledge how privileged and fortunate my life’s circumstances have been, but occasionally weirdness intrudes. 🙂 And yes, age often seems to cancel privilege, odd as that may be.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Not so sure, Cate. Okaji’s pal’s math must maintain a balance point which is why my poor self had to learn to swim uphill against the tide of unordered beer. But, being pink and cumbered by an “eXe” to go with my Why Cromosome, I often wonder why privilege proves so fickle. I find nickles – sometimes – but rare is the quarter and try to tell me people never lose silver dimes anymore. Since I chronosynclastically fluctuate from 17 to 97 and face seventy soonerishly I have pruned my waiting and wanting severely: often by walking away or cooking at home and, of course, overtipping and inexplicable never-tipping until I “get a bite” and establish diplomatic relations with said server (and, have you noticed some gendered and ethnically-and-melaninly-enhanced servers treat their mirror images less-well than us old melanin-deprived dodgers-of-too-fast cars. I always enjoy other outlooks. Perhaps it is small-town South and a boisterous o’erlaying of my real and reserved self that brings me to say: you both need to move to Sanford, Florida and admire your bare toes in the rain as you await your slice of pie at the outdoor chunk of Hollerbach’s WillowTree Cafe where The Bee Sting dessert comes with a like-minded dessert beer and is delivered by a delightful person whose tattoos and truth-telling orientation both are unavoidable and lauded, even if they have to die their spiky hair white. I tell ’em I’m a natural poly-color hirsuitishness, only I keep forgetting to wash after dining down there.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. And those of us stolen from under our rocks on Mars to play protector to a pair of boys – now named brothers – all for $2 a week “and found” plus of course room and board (not to mention my two alleged – one older a brute but brilliant and one younger a mean piece of work and determined – brothers and here you come leaving poetry in the face of Billy Collins and an un-pied steak but with just one beer. Take that human privilege and stand up on all seven feet, Robert Okaji, and – timidly, oh so polite and quiet – yell as loud as you may: Hey! The Other Guy With Me wants both Dessert AND Beer! What a delightful piece. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

      • Like that old – and unfortunately not tired enough – saw about never a bad war or a good peace, I find a reversal with those of us who measure time by two sticks of yard: beer and pie. My short life’s measure is not by dissolved coffee spoons in shrill slurps – I mean why order the stuff if you must adulterate with white stuffs, one crystalline and one liquid? – when you could beat a measure by 45-minute quaffs marveling at the way the taste plays scales on your soul as the temperature and the dimunitioin of head join forces to deliver a moveable (pardon, theft is to be expected here!) feast. This ‘un is a two-pie, three-beer delight.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Instead of standing up on all seven feet, I chose to stop at the nearby store for a six pack of IPA and a bag of Nutter Butters, and inhaled a few brews and cookies while writing poetry in the coolness of my shabby motel room (where I was staying only because a flooded creek prevented me from reaching my hovel). It was actually an enjoyable (if unexpected) evening, but I’m funny that way.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The VinSanto still lies abed in its canister casket whilst I much mine own making of pistachio as well as hazel-nut biscotti with alternating bites of good dark chocolate between a sampling of beers a scribbling of notes, poetry, screeds while listening to basketball and baseball games on the radio. Now, if only I had a nearby creek!


  3. Pingback: Bob Okaji – O At The Edges – Would Like Another Beer (with his pie) – Commentary, Outrages, Prose

  4. Pingback: A little of everything for you 😉👍🏼 – Differents kinds of views //

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