Is Anybody Using This Chair?

“Is anybody using this chair?”
she asks, slim smooth hand
already grasping the thing
by the scruff of its neck.

Of course I am using that chair
at this table for two,
crowded against a friendly wall.
That chair supports
both past and future—
only the present sits empty.
Tony, for one, is due,
my fellow birthday-holder,
the man whose cellphone
remembered to invite me.

This intimate table’s surrounded
by forty sky-happy people I don’t know,
chattering, clattering friends in a future
I may not ever enter.

Have you watched old men or women
converse in a corner
with companions only they can see?
“We save our adulation,” I tell Spence,
“for writers whose characters stay mute—
talk to me later.”
He hands me the leash; kisses my cheek;
signals Grey Dawn to lie at my feet
and heads out the door to tomorrow.
A veil of smoke curls ‘round us both
as Tony slips into the empty seat,
the chair that nobody was using.
His phone lies embedded in hand or in groin—
I can’t tell which—re-telling his life
like a jaded journalist.
Our vaporous talk barely parts the clouds
and his glass disappears
faster than smoke.
I pay; then pace home,
Grey Dawn beside me,
nudging my knees.
“Every birthday,” I tell him,
“every birthday,
I occupy more chairs.”