Saturday, August 2, 2014

Commonwealth

Dawn Potter

When the historical process breaks down and armies organize with their embossed debates the ensuing void which they can never consecrate, when necessity is associated with horror and freedom with boredom, then it looks good to the bar business.
                        --W. H. Auden

Illegal after 8 p.m. (we don’t tell them
cops will mosey by from the doughnut shop
and drag them off to Rikers,
but they like to believe it anyway),
the boys have taken over the bar.  A few hip

passersby peer in through the rain-crazed plate glass,
then scuttle on at the sight of Paul, front and center
in his brand-spanking-new superhero cloak,
hogging the empty dance floor, while James bellies up
to a third root beer and hashes out a few good

subway routes with Ray the bartender.
He, from a far corner of his eye,
watches customers vanish into the fog, veiling not very
completely his anxiety and regret, though possibly
he doesn’t attribute them to these underage freeloaders.

It’s a mother’s privilege to assume
that her children cause more trouble in public
than anyone else’s, but he, childless,
has only his business to worry over:
maybe the “Commonwealth” sign isn’t pretty enough,

the gloss on the bar not seductive enough under the artful
candles: so when out of nowhere a laudatory egg
whacks the righthand window with a noise
like Christopher Robin’s popgun,
his alarm, premeditated and ready for anything,

flings him into the street to examine the goo
just like a regular fussy, pissed-off, middle-aged,
responsible gay man lamenting the goddamn
lack of respect kids today have for other people’s property.
Lingering inside on our shiny barstools, we friends

of his youth are bemused and, despite the free beer,
obscurely regretful that Ray, last bastion of irresponsibility,
has finally taken to muddled bourgeois worrying
like the rest of us.  The boys, always eager for fun,
rush out after him to exclaim over the mess,

no doubt pestering him with inscrutable “whys?”
and milling underfoot while he hauls out the Windex
and scrubs out the evidence, then smokes
yet another Camel in hopes of recovering the equanimity
that seems to have permanently deserted him

since the bar opened last Saturday.
The boys fizz and hop in the drizzle; smoke hovers
over the trio like a portable cloud, and at the bar
we friends of his youth, lovers and ex-lovers, in permutations
hardly worth discussing these days, consider them

as we might examine a Soviet-era inspirational poster
or a silent movie clip, all the subtitles screaming at us
in 1920s gangster slang, funny and unfamiliar
and vaguely frightening. Our eyes meet.
Now that Ray’s grown up, what’s next?

Fear, trembling, Kierkegaard all over again,
there’s just no escape from foreboding,
even in a freshly painted bar in Brooklyn,
good beer, sweet friends,
and kids old enough to stay up after dark

without turning into Robot Monster.
Quick, shove terror under the counter
before the secret-agent man shows up
to muscle Paul off to war in his little black cloak,
shred James’s heart, hand round needles for comfort,

pistol-whip the faggot new neighbor:
for it’s Ray’s fate to hold this fort,
stare out his polished window at the drinkers
who trickle in from the midnight rain
longing for happiness, a shot of J├Ągermeister,

a chattering crowd of seekers,
insomniac and wild, every one of them
doomed to a private, lurking future.
The hour’s arrived: Buy the boys
two tacos apiece, wipe sauce out of their hair,

toss them like spoons into sleep.
Yes, love, love, the same old bedtime story:
but say it again, who knows?—
joy might send up a flare
bright enough to read by, at least for a minute.


***

While trolling through some old unpublished poems, I found this piece, dated 2004. It has its flaws; but if nothing else, it captures those those days when I finally began to let myself go sentence-wise. That marked a big shift in my writing: the poems began to run, in ways they hadn't before.

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