The Absinthe Drinker
It’s clear he’s hit the road
—a Kerouac, a Hemingway—
leather journal, expensive camera,
t-shirt from the Kafka Café.
He struts in, sits beside me,
asks the bored barkeep to set him up:
etched glass, silver spoon, cube of sugar on top
over which acid-green absinthe is poured
drop by drop. In broken English
the Czech barkeep starts to instruct—
the young American waves him off,
doesn’t want to hear it. He’s got a guidebook,
knows about this stuff. He clicks his lighter,
sets the soaked sugar afire. Spoon plunge,
quick swirl. His glass glows—a blue flame—
and before the barkeep can translate or I can explain
douse or blow out the kid drinks it down.
The scent of anise and fennel collapses
into a stench of burnt hair. The kid’s eyebrows gone now.
At least he’s still got both eyes. I pound his back
as he coughs into the bar. Our barkeep no longer bored
but raising an eyebrow in a way my new friend
can’t anymore. Stupid kid, I think
as I signal us a second round. The two of us
both flotsam. This rainy day. This bar. So I listen
to my younger version blame all his folly
on the green fairy’s hallucinogenic effects.
Only stopping over in Prague, he tells me.
Running with the bulls is next.