The 2River View 28.3 (Spring 2024)

Brendan Constantine

A Man Walks into a Bartender

It’s dark in there with nowhere to sit down.
Bartender says, Sorry about all the blood,
it’s been crazy lately. What’ll you have?

Nothing, the man says. I just wanted to see
if a friend was here. He’s a…what’s the word?
The bartender smiles. There’s lots of words,
he says, and no way to tell if they’re ours.

He’s a Baron, the man says. Goes everywhere
dressed like an expensive funeral. Is he here?

Have a look ‘round, the bartender says, I’ve
got live music in the evenings and sometimes

That must be wonderful, the man says, to have
people singing into your heart. The bartender
nods, Just so long as they buy drinks.

The man walks out of the bartender and back
among the colors of the day. It’s so bright,
he has to shade his eyes with his hand. He 
doesn't know he’s covered in the bartender’s
blood. We all stop to watch him pass. 



Once, when the world was a forest, a woman made an arrow and shot a doe.
As the animal died, the woman sang to it and apologized. The doe forgave her,
saying, You must eat my body cold tonight. Do not build a fire. But it was winter,
storms prowled the hills, and she could not eat the doe bloody. So, she built
a fire, ate the heart, and slept.  In her dream, she was a river, lapping between
two mountains. The dream was loud and woke her. Looking into the dark,
she could hear a horse nearby and the tread of a stranger. Then the spirit
of the doe spoke, You built a fire and now a thief has come. When he finds you,
hold my skull before your face and sing again. This time she did as she was told.
When the thief stepped into the firelight, the woman was already singing
and holding the doe’s head like a mask. The thief did not run, and he did not
touch the woman. Instead, he sat and drew a whistle from his pocket because
he knew the song.

Brendan Constantine has published several poetry books, and his work has appeared in many of the nation’s standards. He currently teaches at the Windward School and with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  website
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