Sample: Happy Hour at the Two Keys Tavern


Mid-List Press, 2006

Sample Poems

“My name’s Richie. I been in the Kentucky pen
for the past eleven years. Would you mine me sayin’,
darlin’, that I dig your ass?”

What version of How to Pick Up Chicks
had this guy read, I wondered,
and how was Darlene–an effusive RN from Saint Jo–
keeping a straight face as the ex-con
waited for her answer.
She didn’t know what to answer, so he took her hand
into the pocket of his peacoat
and made her slap
a small handgun onto the bar.
How clever of me, I thought then,
not to have laughed at his words,
for once to have said nothing
mocking or supercilious.
“Hey, everybody’s just here for a good time,”
Brent said from behind the bar,
trying to pull the fuse from the man still searching
Darlene’s face for something he might have lost
long before being closed in to a world of men.
“Good time,” he said, rolling the words on his tongue
like ball bearings. And I saw that the fingers
of his left hand, the hand now two inches from the gun,
spelled G A R Y above the knuckles.
The phone rang. Nobody moved. The Eagles
filled the corners with Witchy Woman.
“So who wants this little silver gun?” he asked,
looking into each of us.
The air blotted up our breath.
And since there were no heroes in this place
he stood, smaller and thinner than I’d thought,
dropped the gun back in his pocket.
“You pussies’d all die inside,” he said,
and walked out, but not before he took Darlene’s head
in his hands, kissed her hard on the mouth, and left
a $10 tip in mid air. We watched it flutter down.
Then, when he was gone, said how
ready we’d all been, for anything.


As I remember it, we emptied
three bottles of Mateus
and wedged ourselves

onto their third-story windowsill.
We watched the snow pile up
around us, one fat rectangular flake

after another shuffling down
to erase every step we’d taken,
my ’59 Chevy disappearing

under a helmet of snow.
We had time for such deliberate
watching then, Wichita, 1973.

And I remember us laughing
about Sharon’s ex—a guy
who kept tires in their bedroom—

and Barbara’s story of the time
she slept with her brother
on a family vacation in Minnesota:

Here, feel this, he said, Barbara
screaming at her first encounter
with a boner, but laughing now.

The snow kept tumbling down,
and I don’t know who suggested it,
but I remember the slow undressing

as if we were figures being carved
in ivory. The candle in the bedroom
strobed light onto the lip of the bottle

I was holding like a trophy. And when
Barbara’s panties finally fell away
like a white petal, we all piled into bed

laughing at our nakedness—
no rippling muscles, not a sculpted
buttock among us. I nudged in

between them, and what happened
in that bed, under the Niagara of snow,
candlelight drawing hieroglyphs

on the walls, was simply that they inched
toward me, close enough so that
we were touching but not touching.

Perhaps passion flared up in some other
candlelit room that night. Here,
I reached out my hands and felt them

settle, lightly (forty heartbeats or so
away from sleep), on those warm separate
continents. Perfectly at home, perfectly lost.