I wonder if there are priests sitting on beds drinking Diet Coke and contemplating the meaning of heaven, of sex, of indigestion from a burger and fries with onions in a bar, the angels covering their ears from the din of four pool tables, of slipping on the spilled Red Rock, while outside the traffic thins and the neon blinks its message to the gods.
Its painful to now say it but perhaps Uncle Sam got it partially right when he shaved our heads and had us march around Lackland Air Force Base as the war raged on in Vietnam, but when you talk about Uncle Sam, the bar is set rather low.
We did all look ridiculous, from the large guy who once was the town bully for certain to the once chubby guy sadly grateful he wasn’t in the Army, (and I’ll let you guess which I might have been) and if we doubted for a moment our sameness the Sarge was more than willing to remind us.
And since I will one day be cremated, I take solace in the fact that my ashes will be indistinguishable from those of Brad Pitt.
Ann Arbor a certain diffidence Butte born of three rum Collins Carmel the Gucci show windows Duluth darkened, foreboding Erie escalator rattle Fairbanks a sound coffin Grapevine grand piano Hilo the restaurant empty Ithaca seeking diners Jacksonville by the exit signs Kalamazoo conventioneers drool Lincoln and slobber Memphis over the ankh necklace Natchez girl cross legged Oakland engulfed in smoke Providence the ficus droops Rehoboth in the shade of the bar Salem laughter turning Toledo into controlled sobs Urbana highball glass slips Vidalia off the table edge Wausau and falls Xenia dropping slowly Yuma through the night Zanesville into sleep.
Along the banks of the barge canal in the village park, a man older, his hair white, almost a mane, sits on the breakwall feeding Wonder bread to the small flotilla of ducks. Tearing shreds of crust from a slice, he casts it onto the water and smiles as they bob for the crumbs. He tells them the story of his life as though they were his oldest friends. My Anna, he says, was a special woman, I met her one night in the cramped vestibule of an Indian take away in London during a blackout. We heard the sirens and then a blast, not far off. She grabbed my arm in fear. She was from Marlow-on-Thames, she lived in a small flat in the Bottom, she worked days in a millinery, and at night tended bar at the Local, until the war. She’s been gone two years now and I miss her terribly especially late at night. A goose slowly swims over awaiting her meal, she looks deeply into his eyes. How are you, dearest Anna, it is not the same without you late at night when the silence is broken again by the sirens.
First Published in Friends & Friendship Vol. 1, The Poet, 2021
For three days I was
a short order cook
a change from my table duties
when the regular guy decided
that a night of drinking didn’t end
when the bar closed
and broke back in
through the rotting back door
that was always next
on the list of things to be fixed.
The owner, my boss, said he’d wait
three days for the cook
to dry out in his cell,
but my cooking made him reconsider.
Yet the customer still came, paid
Were patient, and after
the three days past,
and the old cook couldn’t make
even his nominal bail
the boss hired a new cook
and I went back to dishes
and filling coffee, and looking lovingly
at my dishwasher, my friend
for a too long too long summer
until I went back to college.
“Another,” he said, his knees pressing against the mahogany panels of the old bar, “and keep them coming until I can take no more. There won’t be a last call tonight.” The clatter of caroming billiard balls cut through the cigarette smoke that curled against the etched, streaked mirror, over the din of karaoke. As the bartender rinsed and wiped the glasses with a beigy cotton towel and walked to the storeroom he lifted the shot glass. “This one’s for you Ginsberg,” as he had earlier for Lowell, Reznikoff, the others. Much later as the sun rose slowly, as his head rested in his left hand, he struggled to grab the small glass, lifted it painfully from the ash littered bar top and in a sodden, slurred voice whispered, head falling against the wood, “and this is for you Corso.”
It is seven in the morning Antwerp arises slowing in winter the small bar along seldom used quays of Schelde is almost empty, one old man tottering on his stool swaying to breath head pressed on the counter. Young couple, she brown haired pale white skin against white sweater, he long blond woven into a ponytail draped over the faded denim jacket. Her fingers entwined in his, they stared now, again sipping , she Stella Artois, he Duvel. He would paint, when there was light and when not, his fingers would play across her belly her breasts and mons as they had in darkness slowly receding, touching canvas mind filling with images cast in oils, she would cast words as ancient runes, telling of times gone, to come, and in night he would rise into her, interlocked sweat running across his chest, pooling in his navel. She touched his lips, sucked her finger and put match to cigarette, drawing deeply of the morning carried on river breezes.
First Appeared in Coffee and Chicory, Vol. 5, 1997.
A solitary lentil wrapped in its sauce mantle, having escaped the fork for the duration of the meal, stares up at me, perhaps defiantly my wife suspects it is merely bored at having been moved around so. I stare back at it in what I hope is my most threatening look as the waiter hovers by the bar watching us both, waiting for my fork to come to rest on the plate, the universal sign his tip is then immediately impending. our stares go on several minutes (until my wife finishes her meal) and I shrug, say to the lentil “I’m in a compassionate mood, I let you live!” And place my fork down. The waiter swoops in and carries both plate and pardoned legume to the dishwasher in the kitchen.