Open Mic Night at the Former Holding Company
by Jeffrey C Alfier


To reach the café, we pass empty storefront
windows of failed businesses, their doorways
glistening with urine amid the bright lights
of tattoo parlors, the dim ones of small bars –
low-wattage, pool cues and cracked formica
all that some ever need of their time on earth.


What keeps this dank hole from going under
is any bum’s guess. A smattering of college
kids, a young man and woman – both knitting
with fixed intent as if doing it by court decree,
and a man misplaced in his business suit, staring
at his watch, perhaps truant from his life.


Served in a beer glass, my coffee’s decent.
The clerk’s wife is very proud of her batch
of overpriced chocolate chip cookies
so I staunch my complaint. A near-toothless
crone of unclear age, just in from St Louis,
slumps in a moldy chair, lighting a home-rolled
cigarette that’s longer than the middle finger
she gives me – a hard lesson in disdain.


Tonight’s MC has sallow skin and unkempt
dyed hair, as if he’d stumbled in from a sleep
he never quite left. He may slip out of rehab
but not out of his history. He calls the first
performer – a Mexican guitarist who seems
to sing our doom alive. After him, it’s my turn
at the mic: bard of nothing.


At the last act I leave, and no matter how I close
the door it creaks ajar in shaky lament. In the city’s
grid, the shortest route anywhere runs
through alleys. I’ll take the longest one home.


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