Terminal Cafe

by Robert Long

In 1978, in Hell's Kitchen, I spent nights
Drinking at a window table in the Terminal Cafe,
A table like the kitchen table of my childhood,
Formica, with a vague design of passing nimbus clouds.
I made notes on dupe pads until the clientele
Grew used to me; I was scenery, like the dusty plastic roses
That ringed the bar as if it had one won the Triple Crown
Of gin mills, and the party just wouldn't stop. Today

Nothing's changed. Drunks look screwed into the bar
Through the window of the corner Blarney Stone;
Steam-table mist, germy and humid,
Floats through the room like special effects. Nearby,
Narcs in bomber jackets are piling men into a battered van.
Anchorless, I drift downtown, my shadow
Protoplasm on cracked squares of sidewalk flecked
With glass, fossils, gummy spots the shape of animal crackers,

Each square a pictograph, some grid of primitive symbols.
One time, leaving the Terminal Cafe after a string of shots,
I wandered the streets for miles, across burnt-out 14th Street,
Up Eighth Avenue through the porno district, crosstown
To the East River, its nighttime dazzle, jeweled ropes of cars
Crossing Queensborough Bridge, feeling the near-visible grit
Of evening air, New York's ubiquitous hum, walking past buildings
I'd lived in as a kid, my old schools, the church where I sang,

Places I'd been mugged. Tonight, passing the
Poster-slathered perimeter of the pockmarked crater
Where the Terminal Cafe once stood I wonder
Where the regulars went when the building came down:
The man who ate only white food, the woman with the aluminum leg.
Sometimes in the street I catch a glimpse of a limp,
Oddly dyed hair, a frayed lapel, but the cafe crowd is gone.
And above, the same cold parallelograms of stars.

Other Selected Poems from Blue:

Excellent Coffee Shop
Tie City