At the table by the door,
a couple my age drink iced tea,
dressed as if they’ve come from evening church.
No regulars at the bar tonight;
a novice inquires about the food,
girls in an unnecessary line,
seem uncertain what they want, why they’re here.
Fortified with stronger drink than usual,
I wander into the larger room,
choose a high table by the front windows,
read some poetry—the lights are up tonight.
If it weren’t summer,
the university students would be poring
over stacks of arcane books, teachers
grading endless papers.
But summer’s here, so leisure’s the agenda.
Most are here tonight in groups,
piled on the sofas, huddled
around the larger tables,
playing cards and board games,
drinking coffees, some hot, some iced,
fueling animated chatter.
There was a DJ, but he packed up at ten.
The few singles working on their laptops
have stationed themselves along the periphery,
where the power outlets are; they
have their earbuds in.
Everyone’s in shorts, boat shoes (can’t
believe they’re in style again) or sandals,
except the one kid who’s always put-together:
He wears pressed cargoes, stylish boots,
a casual but well-cut button-down in grey chambray,
his most sartorial virtue being the fact
that he looks as if he doesn’t have to try.
His style puts his friends to shame,
but they don’t seem to mind,
or even notice really. Not sure
what they are playing—there’s a
Scrabble box, but they have
cards and dominoes.
In the library, one older writer’s
hard at work, a younger couple
lounge barefoot on the sofa,
sort of reading, but not really.
A few sip drinks and toy with books.
Back in the main room, the kids
at Jenga balance their tower,
spread cream cheese on bagels,
play with their phones.
The games are fizzling out;
everyone leans back, melts into sofa cushions.
The barkeep, no longer busy,
sweeps up behind the counter,
the kitchen crew takes a break,
collects plates and glasses.
At some secret signal, the crowd
begins its diaspora:
One of the college students from
the big group back by the TV
gets up, says goodnight, and soon
his friends follow suit; the stylish
kid packs up the games,
dismisses his court, and they depart.
The Jenga group have lost interest,
collect their stuff and wander,
checking texts, toward the door.
I’ve finished my bundle of poems,
I suppose it’s getting late.
I deposit my empty glass
in the plastic bin;
only the laptop people remain.
T. Allen Culpepper