True, all great cocktails have their own rituals
but the guy waiting to order can’t see
this bar’s as ceremonious as cherries from a jar.
Behind that guy there’s another guy with his own
excited, thirsty mouth. A birthday party
wants shots. Splash the cheap stuff into
one-ounce thimbles. Pull the tap. Beer costs what?
Not from around here, this guy. Then a woman
with teeth & eyes that tax my faith steps
through the trance I’m in. I count my life in ones
and fives, never tithe. If I weren’t dead tired
I’d be tongue-tied. Don’t look, keep pouring.
Cut fingers while cutting lemons? Agony makes the air
shimmer. Put a band-aid on it, move on. Pull that handle.
Five hours to go. New bottle of whatever.
This guy—this fucking guy—drowns nightly
in other people’s happiness & piles of crumpled bills.
My soul drowns too, dreams that some day
I’ll find myself in the deep end of a bottle or a bong,
the light bent around me, the world briefly still.
Another Variation on Heartbreak
You go to see a friend do drag. You’ve
known him for over thirty years and on that night
he tells a story that shakes you to your core.
Leola, his drag persona, is from the south too,
over seventy and has only recently
discovered her sexual identity. She’s married
to Bubba (no children) who works the same
Piggly Wiggly though in a different department.
She talks about the night she came out to him.
You might expect fireworks from a man with a name
like a ragged couch but instead he says he can’t
find fault in her newfound joy.
He understands, says he knew something
had been off for years. You feel tears surprise
your cheeks and wonder if that’s
the kind of embrace you’ve always searched for?
When you sat down before the show started you thought
you’d be safe in the dark, off to the side;
you thought there was nothing left to learn about love.
Feelings rise to flood you from inside.
There’s a medical term: dry drowning where you fall into
a body of water and inhale fluid instead of air.
Your lungs fill with liquid and death occurs within the hour.
In one rare variation it can take up to two days.
In a theater off 42nd Street you imagine this
must be what that feels like. Your tears
keep flowing as your friend’s rainbow caftan sparkles
under the lights the way streams in sunlight do,
or waves, or the surface of any decorative fountain
located at the heart of a public space.
Lord, you know I am not wired
in the customary fashion. You know
I have a crush on whatever poisons my body,
what pushes me closer to my own death. Lord,
I’m not sure what brought me to this pass,
but it’s about damn time I found a new way
to be. I want happiness and I want it
in a shape that’s easy to recognize—
can you make that happen? For example,
let me be happy to have pizza and beer
and later when I’ve spilled them and I’m on my knees
scrubbing stains from the carpet, let me be happy
to have carpet. Lord, let me live near the sea
where waves roll me to sleep.
Give me symphonies and neo soul
and the blackest Scandinavian metal. I’d like
to visit Vienna and Paris again and I’d like to touch
this world’s wonders while they’re here
to be touched. I swear I’m trying to learn
how to love what doesn’t kill me.
I say “Lord” and mean any power capable
of making me whole. Let me dance like I did
with the woman who would be my wife
in Central Park on New Year’s Eve, 2002,
to the music of corks and fireworks
and my own delirious heart
SM STUBBS co-owns a bar in Brooklyn. He’s the recipient of a scholarship to Bread Loaf Writers Conference and has been nominated for the Pushcart and Best New Poets. Winner of the 2019 Rose Warner Poetry Prize from The Freshwater Review, he was also the runner-up in both the Atticus Review Poetry Contest 2019 and the Cagibi 2019 Macaron Prize. His work has appeared in Poetry Northwest, The Normal School, Puerto del Sol, The Pinch, Cherry Tree, Carolina Quarterly, Atticus Review, Iron Horse Literary Review, among others, with work forthcoming in New Ohio Review and december.