the DoveBar Incident
(a story in doggerel)
From long summer hours
sprawled in dappled shadow bamboo shade,
drinking cold ale to fight the oven hot outside;
Mark,my friend,and I
swapped sailor's lies 'til time to part--
'til day became a bloody smear
just brushing sky.
He said goodbye,
then launched away;
his bike a wobbly twilight shadow
set upon warm asphalt waves.
Leaving me alone,
to cast-off lines,make way
for evening coffee,mocha brewed.
Down University Avenue I cruise,
Allegro ` cafe,blocks away,my destination.
of weather making.
On block number one,(where I live)
I was caught up
by a flurry of youth playing sidewalk football.
I cut right through them,
briefly feeling something like a player in their field.
Idling along the block's second half,
the wind at my back;
watching the gentle revolutions of two young ladies as they
approached the corner,
looked both ways,then crossed.
I sailed across behind them.
(the second block)
rising off my bow,
set canvas flapping
slack against my mast.
In choppy sidewalk fashion,I began tacking;
but,was still hit-up for spare change twice along the way
by the same ragged-looking beggars,
in the same evil-smelling doorways,
as every time I'd navigated my street before.
I once lived in New York.
Long walks through its forbidding streets taught me
the distinctive NewYorkCity Stride--
a high-speed,bipedal mode of transportation
which sees no evil in its way.
Street-life in New York
is an Oriental thing.
crowds of maimed and disfigured people,like lepers
shouting,cursing,pleading for baksheesh,alms.
A walk through New York streets can be
like shopping the Casbah in Tangiers,
or crossing a Cairo street;
like being sold a switchblade knife
held against your throat,point pressing deep.
I sailed on down my street--
in a NewYorkCity Stride,downcast eyes
glimpsing ragged legs and feet,
a paper cup,scattered coins,hands
up-turned and pleading.
Passed over to block number three,
losing pleasant feelings,
before unwanted breezes.
In those hopeless homeless I saw
all the years I've squandered,felt
my fear of failure to compete.
They,the jetsam from our society,left awash behind
the Great American Dream.
They,the injured players,helpless losers
left outside a game they never cared to play.
They who never learned
I never made it to block four
(by four,a hurricane was raging.)
A hard starboard took me swiftly past the bank machines--
past a tanned group of half-clad young men sitting,
battered skateboards drawn up to sides
like elbow-rests on desks at school.
How long since some hated teacher failed
to sell them the Golden Rule?
There were paper cups half-filled with coin before them,
I'd picked up speed,
cutting through the thin sidewalk crowd,a catamaran
racing on a single razor hull--
the wind past my ears a shriek
drowning pleas of sailors,shipwrecked,
left stranded in my wake.
Ahead lay the supermarket entrance,
smiling bright fluorescent light.
Behind its tall breakwater
of consumer products
lay safe haven from the storm.
Dropping sail,I dragged anchor,
slipping past the pan-handlers(who shoal outside the door)
with but a single scrape upon my hull.
I don't believe he saw my face,
but he certainly saw me coming.
"Hey mister,spare some change?"
Which was exactly what I'd expected.
So,if he'd left it at that,
I would have gotten inside without a scratch,
but,he added,". . . or a DoveBar."
That did the trick.
I bought him a damn DoveBar.
I would describe my moment's mood as wry.
I bought myself some food and drink,
but got dessert for a doorway tramp who'd caught my eye.
He was one who wonders where, tonight,to sleep--
what dumpster lid to crack in search of food to eat.
There's no room for a DoveBar
in a day built like that.
The equation doesn't balance.
You can't add a luxury like a DoveBar to a beggar's day
without using imaginary numbers;
the geometry of the situation is all wrong.
A DoveBar is too big
for your average paper cup.
I shoved off,
piloting through the supermarket's automatic door,
rustling the contents of my bag.
I got the young man's attention
by calling loudly,
He was nice looking,
about seventeen-years-old,I'd say.
He looked at me,
as did everyone else along 40 feet of sidewalk.
"Here's your DoveBar," I announced,tossing it to him.
he caught it.
He may have tried to thank me,
but if he did I never heard him.
coming about sharply,
parading on my way.
I heard a girl say,
"Cool,that guy got it for him."
It was climactic--
an almost cinematic moment.
As if she had asked in wonder,
"Who was that masked man?" staring
at a silver bullet in her hand.
I sailed ten feet in hero's heaven,
without doubt,the proudest vessel ever launched upon that sea.
Just ten long strides . . .
. . . and then I saw her.
She could have been
a pretty little thing,sitting
with her paper cup clasped between bare legs
(with open sores,
which needed medication.)
What must have been her boyfriend sat beside her.
The DoveBar incident had done its subtle damage.
I'd lost my NewYorkCity Stride,been re-sensitized
looking in her eyes,
so strange and ancient.
She asked me,
"Spare some change?"
Some things can't be given,
no matter how desperately you share.
Quietly,I surrendered my remaining money,
then set course unmanned for home.
I felt a ghost-ship
drifting through an evening gone in darkness,
my warmth lost to the gathering chill.
the DoveBar incident
Notes From The Nuclear Age