The Dark Lord of the Tiki Bar
Landing. As the airplane ricochets
against the tarmac, he groans himself awake
and stares past fences, letting loose the thought
of a dark-haired girl he met—or thought he met—
tits jiggling as he took her from behind
(bodies generate humidity
that merges with the air despite the fan).
Well, that was fucked! he thinks. A fucked-up dream
of some entropic shithole far away,
a power vacuum with a city square
and old hotels still slightly redolent
of someone else’s colony across
an ocean that’s conveniently vast.
Mistah Kurtz, he dead—but in the end
if there’s a runway, there’s a way back home.
And this is home, a billboard sea of kitsch
along the access road—corrupted signs
and semiotics. Pad Thai. An English pub.
Se habla Español. You’ll never find
a better deal on brand-new furniture!
He merges on the freeway, floors the pedal,
and penetrates the traffic, Cecil Rhodes
in Madras shorts seeking out a place
he sometimes likes to go—a tiki bar,
a relic of a previous century,
an old deployment, a beach bum on the Strand
hauling a metal detector. Fake grass roof.
Its Oriental peaks rise from the lot
and dominate the strip mall, while inside,
grinning humanoids carved out of wood
stare solemnly past tables of bamboo
and toward the sprawling bar. He saunters up
and orders a mai tai. Let the games begin.
Who’s that behind the bar? Minor C. Keith
or someone who would know
the way of the mixologist?
These napkins need to go.
Their colors hint at hope. That’s not the point.
If anyone would come
for reasons besides the usual,
they would soon succumb–
the strongest vows are broken over ethanol
and a steady stream of spooge.
March on the guerilla road,
end up another stooge
stuck drunk and stuck halfway across the world
and through a credit line.
Repatriation’s such a bitch.
The cocktails, though, are fine.
“Hungry Like the Wolf.” What time is lunch?
Wake me if there’s a fire.
Where can I find the central square,
where a gun for hire?
Where did I put my damn safari hat
that goes with my white suit,
the button-down that’s on my back,
the jackknife in my boot?
Who’s the blond-haired guy with pop-star looks
leading the camera crew?
I heard that they’re all Limey queers;
their manager’s a Jew
hooked on coke (or so we peasants hear)
and trying to live the dream
that’s far away from offices,
“there is no ‘I’ in ‘team’,”
and elevator music. Amateurs.
Don’t they know the drift
of how it works when the tourists leave
and the waiters go off-shift?
Another loser with a Section 8
tries to drink it down
to where the fear’s anaesthetized
and unmoored from its noun.
The figurine in brown might be a god
with anger lines in blue around his face
and a featureless gape of mouth. Across the bar,
his twin (or simulacrum) faces him.
A groan–equally inaudible–
contorts his mouth, a haka lodged like food
inside his wooden throat. No mere three days
mark this captivity. No Easter comes
with the last call. The muted god is trapped
within the silver Ray-Bans of a man.
He’s sipping on a cocktail as his gaze
searches for a bit of tail but settles
on that gothic-looking dude with tats.
That guy’s the real thing–he’ll tell you so–
a “legendary muso” (aren’t they all?),
an alcoholic junkie with a thing
for Adolf Hitler. Much-misunderstood.…
Well, that was fucked. But no one turns away
as he goes on… and on to Crowley now,
perhaps LaVey. Chin-chin. Do what thou wilt.
I’ll have another zombie. Left-hand path,
a roadmap of tattoos, apocalypse
in faded t‑shirt and black skinny jeans
and albums out on iTunes.
his is the least of cults, a minor league
of mere aesthetic malice–carnie crap.
Greater evils go by different names.
Just ask the Ray-Ban guy with thinning hair
if you can drink the courage–he should know.
His gaze is an abstraction–or a law
like gravity or entropy behind
the silver nullity. This is the stare
that napalms villages or beckons girls
with fondled dollar bills, that traps a god
within the concave mirrors of the eyes.
Drink up; this place is threatening to suck.
The flash, ironic crowd
read about this in a guide.
Jesus Christ, they’re loud,
banal, and arriviste. Their lungs are pink;
their teeth are straight and white,
the lesser sons of greater sires
who rarely last the night.
You need to know the exits, note the crowd,
and really case the room.
You need to see muzzle flash,
anticipate the boom.
The gooks’ll get you otherwise… old men,
forgotten, off their meds,
are heroes of the later hours.
The youngsters in their beds,
the piece of ass who flounces with their drinks
don’t understand the call
of all the booze that hides inside the juice.
The knick-knacks on the wall
speak of somewhere else, a place recalled
in flashback, more or less.
Get us five clicks to the east.
Help us get to yes.
Help us now, you dotard, racist shits.
The “Greatest Generation”
is laid up and on life support.
Gen X is on vacation.
So that leaves you, the tedious Baby Boom,
the hippie and the vet,
the taintstain of an empire
that hasn’t tanked quite yet.
We know your story, know it all too well;
let’s hear it once again.
What’ll you cover up this time?
What will you explain
to cover your ass or maybe to show off?
Those were the glory days.
Don’t you dare to skip your tab.
Someone always pays.
Consuela does the hulu–half burlesque,
half pastiche Hawaiian, with a splash
of Carmen Miranda in the mix. She sighs.
One brown skin’s like another. Veracruz
via East LA, she wound up here
despite her dreams. (Perhaps because of them?)
She longed to be a dancer, but shit happens,
tryouts get blown, and men can be such jerks.
Know what I mean? You take what you can get.
A gig’s a gig; one dollar’s like another–
even if it’s cod Pacifica,
a fake grass skirt and bra, a dull routine
of thrusts and jiggles. Who’ll call out the lie?
It isn’t the performance, anyway–
no, that’s unfair. It really kind of is,
but in the tits and ass. Of course they leer.
Wanna sex my coochie, por favor?
Mi corazón es loco por amor.
You likee? Si? Then you can go to Hell!
Some middle-aged white dude’s staring at her boobs
behind the glimmer of his shades. She knows
his type. No, scratch that, she knows him,
the workmanlike seduction, thin-lipped smile,
nondescript and moneyed, then it’s back
to her place (he says, “Never take ’em home”).
And even though she knows there’s always no,
and she feels neither tenderness nor lust,
she knows she’ll let him fuck her. (That’s fucked-up,
she muses, I never think I’m fucking him.)
But someone always comes, and someone’s sore,
and someone throws, and someone always drips
and watches the headlights fading as the car
turns to the road, a hulking exit ramp,
and then acceleration far away.
Quincy R. Lehr is the author of several collections of poetry, most recently Shadows and Gifts. He is the associate editor of The Raintown Review, and he lives in Brooklyn, where he teaches history.