At the bakery in winter the old men hold the door
(though it sticks open on the uneven floor)
for their trundling wives.
The wind is urgent and less polite and
elbows past them as if to jump the line,
which would move faster if there were labels on
the esoteric offerings of the trade –
the crullers and bear claws and streusels and strudels
(and who really knows which is which?)
How, with the wind and the winter in here
and the line pressing on,
are they to know what to say?
They have to ask “what’s this and what’s that”
and sometimes when they’re told the names
it hurts a little to not know already.
They feel threatened to find that
that one’s a Bismarck and that one’s a Pershing
because those martial monikers ambush the old men
with the cold tactics of ghostly senescence.
Unable to assemble the disbanded memories
that they find, wandering,
amid the booted chaff of history’s drop zones,
they swallow unchallenged passwords
and re-feel the crippling fear
of never finding their way back
through the black percussive silence
to the rally point.
But here is a good place, the bakery in winter,
where the wives recount for the girl at the counter
stories of the latest hospital stay.
The husbands hang their leather bombers,
worn, wrinkled, and grave as their skin,
on the backs of chairs.
With the wind so urgent and less polite
they put their jackets back on
and think about Bismarck and Pershing
and wonder if it was good to have your name
live on forever
if only as an unmarked pastry in a good place
that could stand to hang a few labels and
that nevertheless stayed too cold in the winter.