Nostrand and Lincoln

A poem for Wednesday

The counter of a Crown Fried Chicken
Photograph by Elias Williams for The Atlantic

in the crown fried chicken, the toilet seat lifted by a shelf,
nikes line the bathroom wall—

the cooks in their rubber slippers
call out another order.

our feet make us immigrants  
before a first winter.

outside the small home  
of this bathroom,

one of the cooks says, love you, bro,
rubbing the other cook’s forehead as he leaves for the night.

i love you, i say to you, and you, and you,
as i leave the bar.

in our living room above the crown fried chicken
you tell me, it’s aerodynamics

the birds in front break the air
so the ones behind them face less resistance

the birds individual, then  
a collective,

rearranging themselves  
so every bird can rest.

all i know about leaving a place
to land somewhere else

is defiance.  
american desire.

my friend who lives in a basement apartment
with no windows and no light

tells me it is all worth it
because of the people she’s met in this city.

the immigrant quashing
of longing—
yet another door

cracked open,
the small sliver of light

we are taught to call home.

once, after i hugged you goodnight,
i asked the cook at crown fried chicken,

when do you rest?—he said,
if i rest, who will feed all of you?

every day we build
our homes

in another man’s heaven.