Michael H. Brownstein has been widely published throughout the small and literary presses. His work has appeared in American Letters and Commentary, Skidrow Penthouse, Xavier Review, Hotel Amerika, Meridian Anthology of Contemporary Poetry, The Pacific Review, and others. In addition, he has nine poetry chapbooks including The Shooting Gallery (Samidat Press, 1987 and Firestorm: A Rendering of Torah (Camel Saloon Press, 2012).
I JUST WANT TO SEE HOW THE DRUNKS ON ASH STREET ARE DOING
What are you having? The bartender asks when I walk in.
I do not want anything, I answer. I just want to see how the drunks on Ash Street are doing.
Some of the drunks I know. I know them by car or I know them by disposition. Others I know by face and apartment. I don’t know names. I’m not a good old kind of boy, the kind with a friendly smile and cruel demeanor behind shadows of darkening eyes. I’m not a small talking kind of guy. Once we get past the weather report, I have little to nothing more to say. How’s the rehabbing coming? How’s the job? What’re you drinking? These questions are not me.
I do not mean anything by saying I just want to see how the drunks on Ash Street are doing. I do not say it out of anger or concern. I just say it the same way a poet writes a line into his journal that came from nowhere and he does not know how to explain what it means or what it is about or even what motivated it to come from his head to his hand, from his pen to his paper. I say it, and once the words enter the room, they float from booth to booth, bar stool to bar stool. Somehow they make their way to the back of the bar where the television begins to blink, go to static, and then the pictures and words crumble into puzzle pieces, angles in a broken mirror, and freezes.
What the hell, the bartender mutters.
Everyone looks at me.
Then the television corrects itself.
I let myself out the door and onto the street where the snow is just beginning to fall and the air forms clouds ahead of me as I walk to the next bar—the one exactly next door—where I do not want anything. I just want to see how the drunks on Ash Street are doing.