The Waiters
(Café Nebraska, Madrid)

Came to Spain to push
A pen across a notebook
I brought with me, but
The crockery passes for
Silence here, and letters
Catch this contagious shattering
And pile up in broken cups
That won't hold my attention
Or any truly quenching draught.

This beer is nauseating for its
Own reasons, Sartre old boy:
You were wrong all along.
What you mumbled I can sing.
Could sing. Would sing. Won't sing.
My voice to these ears like
A dog's to mine: blunt, presumed empty.
Uno cervesa, por favor. Quantos?
Si, si. Shut up and leave me alone.

Yes, spread it around and
Pretend that it's clean. If you
Make it evaporate you can
Fool yourself, but that old
Beer, or fear, or tear, or clear
Cold water hangs in the air
Around you, waiting to condense.
It may fall as tomorrow's rain,
Trickling damnably in your eyes.

I'm not responsible. Line
Follows line like courses in
Some hellish dinner, the
Pickled beets of this one giving way
To this one's reeking plate of squid.
Go on, try some. It's what everybody
Eats here don't you want an authentic
Experience pretty good huh no no
Don't make that face: I'll recognize you.

Time limps around me like a
Waiter with a bum leg and
A bad memory, serving the
Wrong thing too late and charging
Too much, making me dig out
These wadded, forgotten bills. He'll
Recede and return no change and retire,
Leaving me poor and ill-fed. There's
A hundred of him in the alley behind.

They doze beside the grudging tips
In their cans, still waiting
Even in sleep. In the stumble home
I'll step over them, bumbling, waking
Some to my empty hands, coins fled,
Our hopeful grins like chipped
Coffee-cup rims, old and round and
Rough on our lips like curses as we
Clatter at each other and pass.

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