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Last Dinner at Louie's with Levis

         Louie's Bookstore Café, Baltimore 1992

Not the chi-chi place that supplanted it—gold sheers
and archaic columns—but the arty bookstore café
some short steps from monument and museum.

Café of ambition, ambivalence, indolence,
of all nighters, morning afters, café where I bought
Bernhard and Borowski, Heaney and Herbert,

café of gravy-slopped fries by the platter
to share, café of blinking, low-wattage bulbs
whose smoke-reek brought on grievous migraines,

café where I chugged espresso to hear—for once—
the heart resound in my chest, café where Levis
is talking to us, twenty-somethings wreathed

in the afterglow of simply being invited along.
There's the perfectly poised conversational tone
in which he described the "three-dollar vision"

of a mescaline trip, the high church hush
as we took it all in, leaning a little closer above
the clink of glasses, the stereo's rising volume—

There's Levis, a rule breaker, someone important
There's how he stirred coffee, simply, with no sign of flourish,
didn't once betray any boredom—if he even felt it—

going through one more gig. There's the tattered
sleeves of my cardigan edged with ink, as if I'd authored
a book called earnest. What a phrase like "the look of distance"

might mean to the one teller of the tale, talking
to a table of listeners who'd climbed rickety stairs
to a corner table as if it were an understanding

at which they'd arrived—. There are field notes
for the vision quest I never had, how these days
my hunger's for quiet, mostly and a little peace....

There's the way anything said in passing
can grow so much larger than life, how by the time
dessert arrived with its garnish of white and dark chocolate curls,

the conversation took on the patinated finish of anything lost
to time. There's how elegy is not commodity,
not a comestible, even though it inscribes a long-gone

invitation to pick up a fork and dig in. There's how
I could walk up the block to that refurbished store front,
where breaking and entering's the only means of admission,

a tactic, which seems like a desecration of memory
which assumes its own style and means
of embellishment. Memory which is nothing

if not aspirational, no matter the affectations
it's picked up, throwing locutions like truly diabolical food
into the mix. There's the fist raised, about to smash

that plated glass storefront window and the way something else

will always intrude like the authentic rattle of boxcars
into the night, freight thrumming through a Virginia field,
which already starts to sound like lament,

a full moon glazing summer's already wizened grass.

Jane Satterfield

Antioch Review

Winter 2014

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