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Live at Spec's  

The red neon FORTUNE TELLER sign

glows over Colombus Street. Wednesday night,

men in suits from the office,

ladies in their high heels head up

past Spec's, past the bench out front

in Adler Museum's alley across from City Lights

in SF. I'm hanging around.

A guy in three black coats walks up

shaking a cup in my face. A man

with a violin wanders with his solo

through the traffic and the whole bar

sings Happy Birthday, locals revolving

in and out for a smoke

as evening hums but it's early,

sun spills between the buildings.

At dusk the poets come out.


It's not romantic, it's common,

in the blood, in late night ink,

in a tribe's way to gather

for fire, fire water, the dance

across the keyboard, for the blues,

for the crowded round table,

for the talk. Inside the dark door

fifteen flags hang like tired countries

tacked to the ceiling, reflected

in the dusty glass dreams framed

for a flirt with memory, mementos

of what was and what still happens.

"Poetry night," says a woman and they come

with cardboard plates of take-out food

and bags of books to order wine.

There's time for nothing else.


Way in back the old Asian artist

pulls his braided beard and dips

into the palette, he and his tools

hunched over a sign, brushes in glasses

and glasses of brandy or whiskey and water

set right on the board: SPEC'S it says.

Mixing pigment in TV dinner trays

he smiles at the letters, and the word is out

all over the table: flyers, invitations, readings.

I don't know these people but they tell me

to come into the history on these walls:

the poets, the sailors, the girls,

fishing weights, a football hung by a string,

news clippings, boat lamps, red, green

all in the maze of the Twelve Adler Mystery

mapped out. O, the hot dates.


Shots of a bar long gone.

The piano player slides on in, pours himself

over the ivory, boogey explodes the shadows,

someone in line for the bathroom is clapping,

comrades head to head discussing

the neighborhood, poetry and politics.

The people: guys in ranger hats,

top hats, secret agents, Hawaiian shirts,

starched shirts, women who can't be stopped,

the poets and the jazz howling.

Only lovers at this table,

sparks singe the backlit backbar

as the bartender paces herself,

her fingers pulse with the ice

granting wishes, an angel

anointing the house of Spec.


For Spec's 80th birthday - May 2010

Spec's, North Beach, SF