Cheap at Any Price

Cheap at any Price was an open mike in Madison, Wisconsin, in a succession of different venues during the 1990s and early 2000s.

Gabriel tends bar
at the Revelation Speakeasy,
and pours inspiration to all who ask.
He knows what the regulars need
and want
and are better off without,
briskly wiping down counters
and whisking away the empties. He relights
the candles that go out.

From the double row of glittering bottles
he dispenses Comfort, Absolution,
and shots of Dutch courage. The Sky is half full.
A clear, clear Voice flows
into a clean glass.

The gloom is deceptive: here is refuge
from harsh light, dark thoughts, or heavy
weather, any port in a storm. Poets
nurse their drinks and quietly pull
from pockets their secret flasks
of piss-and-vinegar,
waiting for a turn at the mike
to make their mark.

On a good night, Gabriel reads
a poem scribbled on the back of a napkin.
The room fills with liquid; words lap like waves
against the bar’s lonely headland,
and the applause breaks
in ragged surf.

The stragglers huddle in the dying glow
of alcohol, sharing
the last flickers of warmth.
Last orders, please.

©2002 F.J. Bergmann

"Cheap At Any Price" appeared in Free Verse #85

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