a diner outside gatlinburg,
two bland eggs over medium,
thin sausage gravy and a biscuit,
my wife has lukewarm steel cut oats.
smell of cigarettes and bacon wafts
from the kitchen,  Randy Travis
on the radio “tonight I’m sitting alone,
digging up bones.”

Atlanta braves play
on the muted television,
up a run in the bottom of the sixth,
and though an old man
at the counter wears a cap
with that offensive cursive A,
the crossbar extended
as a tomahawk, he spoons
his coffee but he doesn’t watch.
no one watches.

now the tune has changed,
“time marches on” Tracy Lawrence
sings, and reminds me
of Ricky, thirty years ago.
times when he had a guitar,
this was his favorite cover, except
for any song by George Jones.

I remember for one week
he wasn’t homeless.
he sobered up and got a job
at the west Huntsville waffle house.
he was proud to have us over,
his empty studio nestled
in among the hills, he knew each
by name on the horizon,
and all the streams which 
from them flowed,
pointed them out as he sang,
voice smooth as river stone.
Huntsville, Alabama was his home.

but that week, he had his own,
in his hometown, like he’d had
as a kid when his drunk uncle
taught him how to hit,
how to gamble,
and also his signature strum.
that week he had a guitar.

he fixed us loaded omelettes
over which he had apologized,
he said those browned edges
would get him fired if he
served them on the job.
they were in fact delicious.

by a mile better
than the breakfast 
now served.

and it serves him right, Ricky,
bless his soul,
that while I tell my wife
his tragedy, the cook
turns up the volume,

“white lightnin’”

is the song
that comes on.