(for all the great bartenders I know & have known)
Joe the bartender
is not always named Joe.
This one tonight is, but even
when their names are
Lynn or Alan or Elaine or Nick
they are Joe.
We always remember the first.
Back then the only bartender I knew
wore a long white apron, white shirt
a wide tie with a gold tie clasp
grey hair slicked back
from an Italian granite face.
He served me my first orange soda
on fight night in the back room
with my father before we had a TV
later my first legal draft.
In between, my father
who spent as much time with Joe
as he did at home, once sent me
to the Tavern for a quart of Budweiser.
Joe looked at me, asked
“Are you 18?” as I reached for
my new draft card. “I guess you are,
your father would never have sent
you here if you weren’t.”
At a bar in a chain motel in suburban Baltimore
where I stayed the second time in 6 weeks
the Bartender looked at me, “Bourbon & soda?”
she said. A nameless Joe in the top 10, always.
On week nights I wandered 2 blocks
to the Tin Palace for piano jazz & beer
& Lynn who always knew if my latest honie
had left or stayed, shared stories of falling
asleep on the phone. She could handle
a sudden crowd as if she were leaning
on the bar talking just to me.
Other Joes were poets: Melanie writing
behind the bar. Mary saving the poems
to read later in other bars. Alan with more
bar poems than we have poems on anything.
The Joes know how to not make you wait
while you wait, slide a draft to you
between a 17-ingredient martini
find the wine you like while
changing channels & bad plastic
hand you a menu, describe 3
specials, muddling mint, rosemary
asking about your day, your picks
for the Super Bowl, if you want water.
The Joes aren’t flustered, don’t apologize
they keep the wait staff happy
& you & everyone else.
They are there after you leave
& there when you come back again.
whatever your name is.