2015-10-02

Still life

This is one of my oldest poems that I still rate quite highly.  It's from 2008 when I think, if I recall correctly, I had been writing poetry for about four years.

Could I now rewrite this?   Possibly not.  I don't think minor tweaks would make much difference, but a complete rewrite would probably lose the mood, and the mood is everything for a piece like this.

This image has little to do with the poem, except of course it is a still life and it has explicit brokenness and the immanent possibility of decay—but that's life for you...





Still life

And the bar-tender isn't even there
when you decide you need to drink
in the last-chance karaoke bar and grill.
He's never been there, you think
you know different, but all those years
an imposter served your obsessions
and beers; keeping watch on the borderlands
of your head. And if you wrote that wanted-ad
for a loving hit-man with boundary issues
then I can only suppose you placed it
in all the wrong magazines.

Maybe I can say the same thing
in a different way, but I just
began reading the student notes
so I may stumble over some detail,
and that bartender still isn't here
unless he's lurking in the gloom
behind the lurid chrome and plastic
beer signs that illuminate, unenlightening
to the freeze-dried bar flies.
They prop each other, unsteady,
in the face of your scorn. Perhaps...
we should walk out in the dusk
where other flies flicker. They are
not syncing with the cicadasagain
and while each pulses its alien message,
the world has long since turned away.

The bar-tender still displays
a studied absence, although it's so late
that the matt-black metal and smeared chrome
jukebox has fallen into a fugue state of decay
of one-hit wonderment. Only now do you conceive
of the barman as present but invisible,
a force that might be appeased; possibly
through subtle rearrangement of coasters, nuts
and steel ashtraysthe kind that scream
"unclean" even in perfect sterility.
But the paranoia grips you, and I,
carried along in the stream too deeply
reasoned, am forced to admit that, yes,
he might be watching us
.

Always the woman with too much jewellery
and insufficient dress will, for a small fee,
lower your expectations to ground level.
And always she declines to take the mike,
but legend has it that when she does sing,
the world will have been half an hour gone.
And the depravity of the night, in parts
shaded by your varicoloured soul,
draws onwards at length to spew us; ungentle
as a doorman tossing rowdy drunks into the back alley
of morning. Except you never did get that drink,
and the bar-tender isn't even there.



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