Dahlia–East Bay, 1998
Aspen and I are stoned, holding a dahlia and
listening to a world-music band
whose name I can’t pronounce in a bar filled with Boomers.
It’s mid-July and she is beautiful, drinking tequila
while I think about how my mother
would never approve
if I brought home the bartender
A man from Ghana with a wide smile and a voice
that slides over me
like the last time I went skinny-dipping
how my face
is unfamiliar in the mirror behind the bar
how I fall in love with waiters
named Jeff and how I cannot sit with my back to the door.
Aspen holds up our blood-red, velvet-red dahlia
and there is the paradox, the want and not-want
in our shots of Padron Silver, in the remains of the clip, in her smile.
I spent the summer of 1998 in Berkeley living with my friend Jeff (not the waiter), who had just broken up with his girlfriend, a gorgeous surfer blonde named Aspen. He introduced us because he thought we’d be friends–and we were–I spent the summer mostly with her, crashing at his place on the couch after being out most of the night, mostly under the pergola at Jupiter on Shattuck Avenue, though that’s not the bar in this poem.
After spending most of the summer at Jupiter, a week before I left to go back to Chicago, I finally worked up the courage to ask Waiter Jeff out for coffee. His face fell, and he said “I’m sorry I have a girlfriend.” I didn’t hear a comma, but maybe that was wishful thinking. I smiled at him and said “That’s OK,” and Aspen and I left. I was too embarrassed to go back. Even if I’d stayed in the East Bay like I was planning, I probably would have waited a while to go back. Or maybe not. Maybe I’d have magically had more confidence in myself, and gone back and made him sorry that he had a girlfriend. Probably not.
In any event, I flew back to Chicago in late August as originally planned to finish my MFA in writing. I wrote a lot about that summer that is buried in boxes in the basement. (Diagram the previous sentence.)
According to the .zip file my husband unearthed in our 3 terabyte media vault yesterday, the last time I touched this piece was 20 June 2000, which means it was one of the files that I worked on during “down” time at my investment banking job. Keeping the small flame alive at the heart of ash that had built up after I graduated, went through a series of temp jobs, and landed in golden handcuffs at Wasserstein Perella in late 1999. A story for another time, perhaps.