It was a Tuesday in October or a Wednesday in March, hard to say which, but evening. We had taken a cab from the Hyatt Embarcadero or the Fairmont, it didn’t much matter, and sat in the Chinese restaurant on the edge of Chinatown, or a pasta and seafood joint in North Beach, and you said it was a small earthquake, while I was certain it was the waiter who drained the half empty wine glasses en route to the kitchen. We walked slowly along the street past the “World Famous Condor” in all its tacky glory, and I said it was the birthplace of silicon, we had Carol Doda to thank for that and you said I was perverted and suggested we go across the street to the club featuring nude dancers, but I balked when I saw they were men. Finally we compromised and walked around the corner to the City Lights. You wandered impatiently around while I stood transfixed in the poetry section, a warren of shelves, a ladder on wheels and corners, and held, almost fondled a fresh copy of Coney Island of the Mind. I read it slowly, a man stood behind me shifting his weight from foot to foot, “It’s not all that good, adequate, but there’s Bukowski and Ginsberg.” Without looking back, I reached for Gasoline. “At least that’s a good choice,” he said and in growing anger I turned and sneered into the nose of Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
First Published in Creative Juices, December 1998.
My muse sits quietly on the shelf over the counter in the Café Espresso
at Barnes and Noble nestled between 12 ounce bags of Colombian Supremo and Kenya AA, in the shadow of the plant whose leaves reach out to caress her cheek. She whispers to me between notes from the guitarist performing on the edge of the Music Department hawking his new CD to an audience there more for the coffee and tea. The philodendron scandens nods approvingly as I carefully tuck her into the pouch of my fleece jacket for the long drive home.
Charing Cross Road booksellers woven amid theaters cramped sagging shelves an out of print Christine Evans, slim, collected works of those long forgotten never noticed a damp chill enfolds old leather as the door opens and shuts on a late February. Morning, my purchases sink in the plastic bag dancing as I walk to the tube at Leicester Square with my new gems destined to cause a sag in my bookcase.
She sits in the bookstore cafe her head covered by a linen kerchief bobby pinned to the mass of walnut curls. She cradles the cup of cooling coffee and stares down at the slim book of Amichai, yielding to the Hebrew letters that seem to dance across the page. I sit at the adjoining table with my used copy of Bialik, translated. I glance at her “I’ll miss him” with a nod to Amichai then “where are you from?” She shifts in her seat, legs crossing, pulling back staring over my shoulder at the slowly spinning fan, then at the book. I look for her eyes but they dance away, my hands clasp and unclasp, fingers drum on the table. She mutters, “Atlanta.” “What part?” “Warsaw, inside the walls and wire, that place from which so few of us ever manage to escape.”
When my back was turned, Corso slipped away somewhere in Wisconsin silently, without protest carried off by Charon across a gasoline river. There was no bomb to announce his departure, no Queens orphanage stopped frozen in a silent moment. In the small park at the north end of Salt Lake City no one lifted a jug of bad wine to toast him, the magic bus just rolled by. In the City Lights bookstore Ferlinghetti shed a tear that dried on the old wood floor and from above a brief howl pierced the morning calm. Outside the small temple on a back street in Tokyo a Buddhist monk bowed before the statue, read the wooden prayer card and whispered Toodle-oo.