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AT THE RESTAURANT
by Stephen Dunn

Six people are too many people
and a public place the wrong place
for what you’re thinking–
 
stop this now.
 
Who do you think you are?
The duck à l’orange is spectacular,
the flan the best in town.
 
But there among your friends
is the unspoken, as ever,
chatter and gaiety its familiar song.
 
And there’s your chronic emptiness
spiraling upward in search of words
you’ll dare not say
 
without irony.
You should have stayed at home.
It’s part of the social contract
 
to seem to be where your body is,
and you’ve been elsewhere like this,
for Christ’s sake, countless times;
 
behave, feign.
 
Certainly you believe a part of decency
is to overlook, to let pass?
Praise the Caesar salad. Praise Susan’s
 
black dress, Paul’s promotion and raise.
Inexcusable, the slaughter in this world.
Insufficient, the merely decent man.
***
“At the Restaurant” appears in Stephen Dunn’s collection DIFFERENT HOURS, which won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.