Three poems, three poets.
Cafes at Night
What world is it that rises
From this world at night when
The waitresses with wondrous
Hairstyles emerge, put on skirts
And Eyes, and the whole green light
Behind the counter blooms into faces.
We could speak of wearing raggy
Shawls of boredom, or even of
Tenderness. Everywhere I look
There are blessings of jewelry, heels,
The amnesia of lipstick, sleep . . .
The stooge in the booth dozes
In such a pink light he gathers
Knowledge of how his own body
Travels and enters other bodies lovingly.
There is the puny waitress,
Her hair in lit syllables,
Who works all night, whose hands know
The Latin of silverware.
And what world is it that rises
From the city’s dunes with its ghosts
Of waitresses, their ankles always
Wishing to be touched,
And the raincoats coming in at ten,
And feet that know the silence
Of couches, and eyes that know
A smoggy silence, and faces,
Where the cries begin, where the sad
Animals leave their light—
Until we are all one body,
The bozo in the kitchen, the shy waitress,
The invading bowlers,
The town’s feather’s of small danger.
And I believe: this is where I live
In all this vein of longing, in this city,
And the heavy woman inside me
Who wants bacon and sex
Lives here, and I believe how
The dark outside will change
And eight year old grandsons
Will throw rocks at moonlight.
2:00. The waitresses glide out,
An accident of swans,
Into what worlds and what music?
I’m perfectly sure it’s not about being saved
or living this life as preparation. It’s about
waking in a strange bed, suitcase lost,
children smacking eels against the dock,
the impenetrable rotation of the guards,
adumbrations of cloud.
It’s clutching the leg of a chair, crying, Help
on a chunk of ore
whistling through the cosmos.
Last night, under the glowing highrise,
I shouted Charlotte into the epileptic stars
until the revelers, already hating me,
brimmed with fear.
Yellow pinpricks opened in my head,
first contact with the big blackout.
Maybe I was trying to shout
Charlotte clear out of existence,
the way insistence becomes erasure,
a repeated word a senseless blue beginning.
Maybe there was never a Charlotte I wanted so,
followed to this island that was once a leper colony,
now fully of guys in epaulettes holding open doors.
Maybe I’m just a figment
in someone’s dream I never
really knew, a prop in someone else’s symbolism
or repression and need. Aren’t we just each other’s
nocturnal inklings? Isn’t the world a drunken sleep?
I mean I might have known a Charlotte once
whose letters seemed to have come from quarantine,
parts of animals enclosed as proof of what
I did to her: moth wing, cricket’s leg
like a violin bow upon a rumpled bed.
I remember red
streamers tied to a fan wire’s face.
I remember head. Somewhere above me I know
the golden body sleeps, fussed over by giant bees,
the distillate’s of a thousand lilacs
drooling from their jaws.
The long night wandered on
seeking some adventure of its own
I found your ear above
your beloved jaw & kissed it
in the lee of a Christmas tree
saying we were going
to justify kissing, or kissing
to justify going. Why she
invited you & Mother
to such a kiddy soiree beats me she
was supposed to be my friend
the kind who knows your secret
shames it smelled sweeter than
a Daddy’s ear should smell
it was firmer & warmer my mouth
stayed there beyond the
split second it would normally have taken
to bid someone goodbye, pressed
against your stupefying flesh
You said what’s going on
before jerking away
after squeezing my arm
I was abusing you
before it became the thing to do
but like everything else we
did it was in reverse Oh my Father,
*all from Passages North Vol.16.2 Winter 1995, Ed.Michael Barrett