An Early Morning Cafe’

An Early Morning Cafe’

At the summit of the Trade Center
107 stories into urban ether
the Windows of the World Cafe
served pate’ and poached salmon
to diners staring down
into the caverns of Manhattan,
but early in the September morning,
the sommelier and maitre d’
still asleep in their far-away flats,
only the sous-chef and banquet staff
had arrived to peel the shrimp,
trim the artichokes, and wash
the leaves of the escarole.
Simple work in silence with your mates
in an empty early morning cafe’
is a pleasure: jokes, mild complaining,
a hummed tune or two,
sneaking a cigarette in a quiet alcove,
stories of luck in last night’s poker,
when suddenly a berserk machine
decides to murder a building with fire.
Like a badly shot elephant,
the hundred and six stories holding up
your peeling knife and lettuce drier
wobbled and shook for a little while.
Smoke belched out from blown-out eye sockets
but when the flames began melting the bones,
it all tumbled down on top of itself in
a smoking gray heap, the shrimp,
the artichokes, the escarole, fifty thousand
bottles of elegant wine, joining
in a sticky red downpour:
type A, type O, Chateau Lafitte, Rothschild.
Pouilly Fuisse ’79, type AB ’49,
and you yourself unless you leapt
out one of the windows of the world
to try with your imaginary wings
to finish the flight to the city of angels.
Humans so riddled with hate they transmogrified
from men to bombs to smash the girders
under your cafe’, though they’d never met you at all,
to murder you for the glory of God
with your apron still smeared with shrimp guts.
It was always thus. Try killing an abstraction
by murdering a building from the air,
but all you kill is Bob and Edna
and Sallie and Rodrigo and Mei-Mei.
A building is only a set of artificial legs
to hold up human beings in the air,
and an airplane only a sheet of folded paper.
But 50,000 bottles of good wine
and ten gallons of fresh gulf shrimp,
and Bob and Edna and all the rest.
Now that is something real!
If you think you’ve bagged the one truth
and that truth wants final sacrifice,
then you have stepped outside the human race,
and your plane will not land in heaven
wherever you think it might be.
Heaven in an early morning cafe’.
Wherever you are.

Bill Holm Playing the Black Piano
© Milkweed Press, 2004

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