My courage wasn’t equal to the task
of plugging in, performing for a crowd
so ‒ pint by pint ‒ I’d paint a public mask
until my blood like bitter honey flowed
from vein to vein. The mic glowed on its stand;
behind it Marshall stacks from last night’s band,
cymbals, organ and acoustic guitars ‒
each instrument transcendent in its poise.
My name was on a list of would-be stars:
newbies, greenhorns, most of us still just boys
come into town with dreams of the big time
to try our hand at harmless pantomime.
Just then, as I could hardly stand, I’d hear
my name, its syllables a foreign tongue,
eyes rooting me out everywhere. “I’m here,”
I’d stammer (as I fashionably swung
my guitar case across my back) and strut
across the bar: eyes angry, flashing, hot
as coals or lava smoking in its bed.
A thrift-store jacket and black turtleneck,
Frye boots, on my uninsulated head
brown silky hair that floated on the wreck
of an impaired visage. Hand over hand
I’d titillate the cobra from its sand
connect electric cables to the amps
until the feedback rattled in its cage.
It set your teeth on edge. Halogen lamps
irradiated the postage-stamp-sized stage.
I’d launch into my spotty repertoire:
ten-minute Dylan songs, and clear the bar.
The boos and catcalls only fed my fear.
I flopped and fled ‒ the faithful snow outside
on Ludlow St., immaculate and clear,
still falling, flaking. I picked up my stride
a groaning pit of hunger in my gut ‒
acidic, urgent. In Katz’s I’d glut
two sour pickles, half a corned beef-on-rye
slathered with mustard tart as young lemon,
a steaming bowl of soup and apple pie
then sit in the sulphureous light alone
with a full belly and an empty mind
my chicken heart inconstant as the wind.