for Vic Charlo
Two stools down, two white guys
rebuild – sheet rock and tape – the house
they’d worked on all day, tossing
back pints of Miller beer. Beyond them
an elderly couple sit chewing
on burgers, still collared up warm
in their polyester coats – two cigarettes
burning in the ash tray between them.
Not a regular, but not a stranger,
the old poet orders a burger and glass
of Guinness, props his cane between his knees,
cracks open a peanut and nibbles
on the fruit, lets the shells fall
among the husks piling on the floor.
The door opens and an Indian woman enters.
All heads turn, pause, and return.
She walks past them, the length of the bar,
her gait smooth and sure as a cat’s,
disappears in the direction of the rest rooms
or the alley exit. One bartender washing
glasses nods knowingly at the other guy
flipping burgers. On TV, Dallas, America’s
Team, battles the Redskins for bragging
rights – top dog of the NFL cellar.
The old poet recalls a sweat he took years ago
up Spring Creek, catches himself humming
a song – Charlo’s Walking Bear.
The polyester smoker points out to his woman
an all-Irish Butte baseball team in the gallery
on the back wall, laughs, coughs and rasps,
“Down in Finn Town we hammered those Micks.”
The dishwashing bartender grins, pours
the Finn couple free beers on the house.
One of the carpenters kills his pint, raps
the empty hard on the counter, and stands up
to stretch his legs, “No shit,” he says,
“every fuckin’ board – twisted as a cork screw!”
The bartender laughs, grabs a fresh glass,
tilts it under the tap, and draws another brew.
The Indian woman comes back, appears
headed out the door, but pulls up
next to the poet – who gives her a smile
she doesn’t return. She digs in her pockets,
drops coins on the bar, and unwads two
crumpled bills. The bartender keeps rinsing glasses.
His ears, then his eyes acknowledge the money.
He wipes his hands, asks flatly, “Whatta ya need?”
The old poet sees smoke, bleached bones,
black wings cross her face, framed
in the back bar mirror. “Ya got cigarettes?”
she asks quietly, “Marlboro menthols?”
He pulls a box of regular filters from the case.
“Menthols,” she says. Slowly, he grabs another
brand, shows her, says, “Four and a quarter.”
Her hands close on the mound of cash.
“Four and a fucking quarter?” she asks.
Holding the pack up, halfway over the bar,
he warns, “Hey! Watch your mouth.”
Grabbing her change and mumbling, “Goddamn
robbers,” she turns and lunges out the door.
The bartender returns the pack of smokes
to the case, blank faced – his one eye twitches.
Nobody’s talking. Then the Cowboys score.
Happy Hour begins, and the bartender
pours. The poet’s burger is up. The old couple
moves over to the keno machines. America’s
Team pulls out an overtime squeaker.
As the carpenters get back to nailing it down,
the old poet chews slowly, nurses his beer,
and glances at the white man
eating crow in the mirror.