is empty these days, old
oak bar smoke stained and carved
all over with varnished names
and spidering cracks like scars.
Fading fake roses wilt
on the untuned piano
where I learned to play “Chopsticks”
and Chopin, sang soprano
for fishermen and cannery
workers after my bedtime.
Mother, holding a lime, would
scold me, head shaking, then mime
“just one more” over the crowd.
Men, rowdy, yelling for beer
would grin, call me dear, and leave
a coin or two heaped up here
on the piano bench. I’d
hide them in my small pink heart-
purse, sneaking one at a time,
making the big pile look sparse.
I’d dream of a real stage, save
all the sticky change, count it
each night, wondering how much
was enough for red velvet
curtains, but I found fast boys,
big joints, let the money run
through my fingers. Dust motes
drifting between piano
strings. When the snow fell, I wrote
my first love note, sipping hot
toddies by the pot-belly stove.
I overflowed my heart. I sought
love in a snowman’s cold kiss.
Skunk cabbage unfurled, black bears
nipping them off near the mist
drenched ground. Then, the first bad year:
the cannery closed. Yet, boats
would float in anyway. Night
after night, skippers sat moored
on tall red stools till daylight.
I learned to slosh out whiskey
and gin, fry crisp fish and chips,
but each summer I order
less liquor, feed fewer lips.
The last folks—famous Rose too
mom)—are far away, have since
slipped away. I wince and bend,
pull a small string. The hot pink
tubes and links of neon light
flicker, fight shadows, and then,
are wrenched into the sinking night.
Fourth of July in Pelican, AK
The poster reads: Teeny-Weenie Contest.
I tack it on top of ragged old fliers, corners flapping
in a stiff breeze. This one is glossy, bright like new shoes
or copper penny nails at the local hardware.
Covered in red, white, and blue stars,
it’s “the big deal” around this fish-town, so don’t go
thinking dirty thoughts. It’s all fun and games
and, truth be told, the Fourth of July needs every teeny-weenie
bit of excitement teeny-peenies can muster up.
“Dying Town Loves Sex” headlines the paper in Juneau;
that tourist-trap town of Princess Cruise Line jewelry stores
likes to joke our top prize is the biggest truck in town,
but Pelican is a boardwalk row of shanties built on stilts
above the tide. Not a single road. We just want to see the little guy
win big for once.
“Rose’s” first appeared in The Fourth River, vol. 9, 2012, and that “Fourth of July in Pelican, AK,” first appeared in Cirque, vol. 2, issue 2, 2011.
- Ports Of Call | Pelican, AK | “Closest To The Fish” (juneautek.com)