American Portrait (7)

by Ken Harnisch

4 A.M., Sunday

Sitting at the bar

Up on Route One in Noank, Connecticut

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 there’s no one here

But us.” And he smiled in that droopy-dog

Way of his and said, “what‘s 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 didn’t mean…” he started, but she said

“Yes you did. And it’s okay.”

Biting her lip to dam back the tears,

Until she spoke again:

“Funny, isn’t 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

“You’re just like all the other men I’ve 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 brother’s soul.

Thinking, it’s 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.”


Same day

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 terrorist’s 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 couldn’t see it, when she said

“You’ve made me happier than I’ve 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 I’m gone,” she said.

Shushing him, before he could protest

In his way. “When I’m 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 Melissa Arel on 02/10/03 at 02:04 PM

Yes.. this is another amazing portrait of an amazing people.. Well done.

Posted by Chris Sorrenti on 02/10/03 at 02:11 PM

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 Christina Bruno on 02/11/03 at 12:59 PM

this is soo awesome! i love it

Posted by Kate Demeree on 02/12/03 at 03:31 PM

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 Glenn Currier on 02/14/03 at 04:48 AM

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 Kate Demeree on 09/21/07 at 11:38 AM

Something drew me here yet again... this is a haunting piece

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