Upside-down lamps, half-lighted tonight,
dangle over the corner of Sixth and Peoria
like disco balls on a week’s vacation,
cars gliding by seemingly close enough
to touch if glass were a bit more permeable.
The downtown skyline, so close by,
nevertheless remains mostly obscured
from this angle, but its glow keeps it
continually in mind, if not in view.
The crowd tonight is sparse, quiet,
the music low as well, unobtrusive ambience;
I couldn’t even say what’s playing exactly.
From my vantage point on the pink
velvet sofa curving across the room,
I relax, drink a beer, watch the people,
and try to write the essence of the scene.
In front of me, in armchairs by the window,
two young men, both dark-haired, one
with diamond ear studs, the other without,
sit and chat. They seem to have recently
finished a shared platter of food; they
sip iced coffee drinks in tall, frosty glasses.
Friends, boyfriends, roommates? I idly wonder,
as one does. Long-time friends, I think,
or roommates perhaps. Separate chairs,
table between them; lovers would have
taken the sofa, vacant before I came in.
Not new acquaintances, for sure;
too much at ease, too familiar with each other.
They laugh, trade a phone back and forth,
speak of many things. At one point I hear
a reference to the Lutheran church,
but in what context I cannot determine.
On the other sofa, blue-gray, behind me,
a hetero couple stretch their legs; I forget about
the TV until later; perhaps they are watching it,
idly, inattentively, waiting for something to catch
their interest. They don’t speak much, or move.
To my left, at a table, a group of four friends,
or just acquaintances maybe—they behave
more formally—talk about what sounds
like colleges, classes, careers, serious
matters, but routine; for most, this is not
the night for urgency. Always, though,
one exception: beyond the four,
against the back wall, one young woman
works ardently at her laptop, her phone,
a calculator, oblivious to her surroundings.
To my right, at one of the tall tables
by the Sixth-Street windows, sit a young man
and woman, these too apparently friends
rather than lovers, judging by the
fragments of conversation I overhear:
“And then she says…and then I go…, so he…”
She’s blond, with a stylish short haircut;
he’s dressed simply but well: perfectly fitting
black T-shirt, white jeans, black sandals
(difficult for guys) that are actually cool:
not too clunky, too sporty, or too girly.
They converse across an empty table,
after espresso cups have been cleared.
Two regulars at the bar, one mostly silently,
quaffs half a draught, not as frothy
as my Belhaven, wanders out for a cigarette,
returns to finish his beer. The other drinks
something red and slushy, discusses alternative
uses for a window-unit air-conditioner:
coffee table, ottoman, that sort of thing.
The bartender, wiry hair held back with
a bandanna, not rushed, but occupied,
being the only one on duty, half-listens
while he works, makes an occasional
jokey response; I’m listening to fragmented
bits of conversation, drifting off;
the traffic light outside blinks green again,
startles me from my reverie for a moment,
I notice the alien art: the current artist
has a thing for Star Wars, apparently;
I’ve not been sufficiently inspired
to take a closer look; it seems well
done, just not quite my thing.
I hear the door behind me, someone
in, or the smoker headed out again.
I’m sure there must be texts, but oddly,
not one of us receives a call, though
all are holding phones. A hypothetical
caller with usual “What you doing?
would probably get the same answer
from any of us, “Not much, you?”
And, indeed, the unity of the action
is that there is no action, and yet,
this is stasis, not stagnation; our immediate
world seems right tonight, at peace,
or at least our meds are working.
T. Allen Culpepper