At Arby’s, At Noon
by Ted Kooser
Some of us were arriving, hungry,
impatient, while others had eaten
and were leaving, bidding goodbye
to our friends, and among us
stood a pretty young woman, blind,
her perfect fingers interwoven
about the top of her cane,
a flimsy wand pressed to her cheek,
and she was bending forward,
open eyed, to find the knotted lips
of a man whose disfigured face
had been assembled out of scars
and who was leaving, hurrying off,
and though their kiss was brief
and askew and awkwardly pursed,
we all received it with a kind of
wonder, and kept it on our own lips
through the afternoon.
from Splitting an Order. © Copper Canyon Press, 2014.
Reprinted with permission. buy now
The strength of this poem is its plainness, its unadorned and straightforward voice. This humble observer never once refers to himself, using instead the inclusive “we” to describe the scene. He shows us that, even during the lunch rush at a fast food restaurant, we can be moved by what we see. And this story of a “pretty young” blind woman kissing a man with a “disfigured face” always makes me think of a line from Tibetan Buddhist meditation master Chögyam Trungpa’s The Myth of Freedom: “Delight in itself is the approach of sanity. Delight is to open our eyes to the reality of the situation rather than siding with this or that point of view.”
It would perhaps be easy to come down on the side of pity or grief for these two young lovers—one disfigured, one blind—or to ignore them altogether. Yet, like Kooser, I would rather find wonder in their goodbye kiss at a crowded restaurant. I would rather carry that kiss “through the afternoon,” like a benediction on my own lips, letting this moment of connection between two people in love give us all permission to live and love without shame.