3 a.m. At Newport Pagnell Service Station
I slide my wood effect tray along
the smudged metal runway with iconic
images above my head of frothing cups
of cappuccino, Danish pastries, summits of glistening
baked beans and burnished beef burgers hung
like Vermeers from brightly painted walls.
I carry my frothless coffee to a table
beside the massive panes of the window
through which traffic, grown strangely
silent, forms six strings of a diamond necklace
of red and white lights into the darkness
with no beginning and no end in sight.
Across the aisle, a woman who has strayed
from a Hopper painting, sits alone and keeps searching
through her handbag as if in search of some
official document that might tell her who she
is and why she sits here in this room, laid bare
by fluorescent strips, at 3 a.m. on the 6th of March.
At another table, a man with a beard endlessly
rotates a tea bag in a white mug with a spoon.
I gaze at the slow rotations of the spoon and see
how the colour of his tea deepens and darkens.
An elderly woman with her hair in a bun, bends
her head over a crossword in search of answers.
I sip my chilling coffee and listen to Sinatra
crooning from the dead. With lowered eyes, I
create patterns from the varying islands of the spilt
blood of tomato ketchup left by former customers
and wonder what decipherable patterns I might leave
behind when I choose to rejoin the necklace of lights below.
I look up again at my few fellow pilgrims
who have entered, like me, by chance into
an unsleeping communion of silence in this glass
cathedral, scented not with incense but with frying oil,
built for travellers who take time out of their journeys
to destinations not wholly of their own choosing.
Copyright © 2009 James Knox Whittet