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.