Lines composed for a stranger, on a napkin @ The Alcove in Los Feliz

you sit there in your special little nook,

like a sovereign in the universe of cakes,

you choose your seat in the back corner,

‘in an alcove at the Alcove’; you regret

thinking for a moment this was clever

of you. you sit with your little café con

leche, with your little dessert dish,

your special little saucer and your

‘platillos sucios; you hear the dumb twerp

of the register; someone else sits behind the till,

he is not attractive but his personality seems

effortless and authentic enough that you feel you

could one day be swayed otherwise;

his false (and true) sense of his own authority

is a little  disconcerting, and yet you find yourself

strangely drawn to this; you sometimes wonder

about this quality in yourself – the way your love of

someone else’s grace and power and effortlessness 

can surprise you; you wonder whether

you might be weird even by Los Feliz standards,

(which would still be better than normal, you think)

and now you tell yourself

the man behind the register is just okay;

sure, he is a sovereign

of cakes just like you

and, not to mention, of sausages and cabbages

and all sorts of other little items;

and so the two of you share that sweet

pleasure & secret burden; you share a cardinal

sense of pride and shame (a secret pride and a cardinal

shame? yes, you think, much better, rolls off

the tongue the way the

cakes roll the other way, if only for a moment,

even if it never lasts: the pride, the shame,

the cakes rolling on to the tongue,

the grating sound of the register that you begin to

enjoy in spite of yourself, in spite of everything);

these are the circumstances, the ridiculous props

that have become your life, all the unique yet transitory

marks of freedom and incarceration, of youth and

the daily daily

the feigned indifference-

for who else thinks such things,

each day the same

few frivolous things in so few frivolous permutations –

only a few more orders,

you hear the man behind the till saying,

his voice hoarse now and raspier than you remember,

and so you question everything all over again,

and this is your neighborhood now and you share that

also, and maybe that gives you the right –

yes, you think, so few frivolous things in so

few frivolous permutations

that always seem beyond your grasp,

so retroactive, so james dean so forty years ago

in some movie you’ve never seen but your parents

tell you you should have,

the one about a chicken-race between a couple of cars

that drove off a mountain top –

who else thinks these

thoughts, such bitter-sweet-and-simple thoughts,

formidable ephemeral and yet transcendent, so–

a moment too late, who else

other than a prisoner who has settled

for a discreet slice of caramel cake and

a daub of coffee

in the crooked back-side of a café, in this

seat, this throne of your own ridiculous choosing, an alcove –

yes, a delightful evocative name – the name suggests,

a prison, you think, and at the same time

suggests nothing,

absolutely nothing at all.

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