American Portrait (7)
by Ken Harnisch
4 A.M., Sunday
Sitting at the bar
Up on Route One in
The barmaid ruffled his thinning hair
And said, do you want to make love, cowboy?
Now that the folks are gone and
The parking lot is empty and theres no one here
But us. And he smiled in that droopy-dog
Way of his and said, whats the use?
A patronizing smile to be sure, but he wanted to eat
The words even as they were tumbling out of his
Mouth. She wearing that tell-tale handkerchief
Around her hairless head, and him still in mourning
For the brother he had lost down in
New York City
That bright, blue September day
I didnt mean
he started, but she said
Yes you did. And its okay.
Biting her lip to dam back the tears,
Until she spoke again:
Funny, isnt it, how the dying want to live
And the living want to die.
He sat there stony at the bar
And she went around and drew a Bud Light off the tap
Put it down in front of him and they both watched
The frothing head collapse before he took a sip.
Forgive me, I am a fool, he said at last, and kissed her fingers
She smiled and pressed her lips against his hair
Youre just like all the other men Ive known:
A little too hard on the gas, a little too light on the brakes
He smiled, seeing her for the first time again
The flowing blond hair, the bright eyed smile
As he stopped inside this place that day
Fleeing from the dust, the death,
The desecration of a brothers soul.
Thinking, its a good day to gamble
He had fled to Foxwoods to the one-armed bandits
To the gaming tables where fortune had a chance
And instead wound up sobbing in the bar.
Turn that TV off, he had said, his first words to her
And she just looked at everyone else whose eyes
Were glued to the smoke and fire and said, softly,
Not on your life, man. Not on your life.
She took him to her bed, not caring if he had a life
In some other place, making him aware her own
Might be forfeit soon to vagaries more cruel
Than a terrorists plot. And he admired her, and clung to her
The passion coming from some well where fate and life
No longer had a meaning either could define
And in their mad dash to satisfaction, some lamp
Was lit to which neither claimed the flame;
Some connection born despite
The ice on two embittered hearts
But still he couldnt see it, when she said
Youve made me happier than Ive ever been before.
Now he tapped his fingers
Desultorily on the pilsner glass
I love you, he whispered, half way through his beer.
And she smiled. I know that silly, she replied.
She turned out the lights over the bar and sat next to him,
Nibbling on his neck, kissing his collared shirt
Saying, Do me a favor, please.
And he squeezed her hand and said, Anything,
You know that now.
She touched his thigh and said, Make love to me.
I really like the way you do, and gleamed
That wicked way she did that always did him in
And he began to rise when she pressed her finger
To his lips. And when Im gone, she said.
Shushing him, before he could protest
In his way. When Im gone, you live your life for
Both of us. Promise me.
And he trembled, remembering it all
Yet seeing now the light
She had always tried to shine on him
He kissed her madly; then took her
Off, committed now
To redeem their shattered lives
Author's Note: For all those fans of this series who encouraged the stories to go on...trust me, you are their redemption.
Posted on 02/09/2003 Copyright © 2023 Ken Harnisch
Member Comments on this Poem
Posted by on 02/10/03 at 02:04 PM Melissa Arel
Yes.. this is another amazing portrait of an amazing people.. Well done.
Posted by on 02/10/03 at 02:11 PM Chris Sorrenti
Rich, vibrantly excellent writing Ken. This reads as much as a screenplay as it does a poem. Let me know when they make the movie!
Posted by on 02/11/03 at 12:59 PM Christina Bruno
this is soo awesome! i love it
Posted by on 02/12/03 at 03:31 PM Kate Demeree
Casting a vote, but the comment will have to come later, this diserves more of a comment than i am capable of at the moment.
Posted by on 02/14/03 at 04:48 AM Glenn Currier
Not so much a story really... a portrait of two weathered souls creating something beautiful against all odds. You carry them into our hearts with your artful writing and your own humanity. Poetry indeed... at its finest.
Posted by on 09/21/07 at 11:38 AM Kate Demeree
Something drew me here yet again... this is a haunting piece