Maura Alia Bramkamp

Tapping at the Hollywood Bar

I don't know what heat-stunned demon
possessed us
to walk into the midday gloom
of the Hollywood Bar.
I was eight, I knew about it:
juke music jumpin' past
respectable time each night.
Knife fights, tight pants,
Black men hardened by rough work
or the lack, dark ladies
in rhinestones and workshirts.
I knew--the way some grownups
spoke, made the word "migrants" hiss.
I stepped in out of the heat and glare.
Patti followed like a double,
milk-fed veal of a girl
half my size.
I didn't care.
Four hours toting Girl Scout cookies
up and down hills,
two boxes sold,
so thirsty I was dizzy
and Patti in tears.
We stepped in to jet-cooled air,
jewel of a jukebox,
and a bar shiny with wood,
glass, the promise of liquid and ice.
On the wall-hung TV,
tapping in code:
Miss Shirley Temple,
The 3 o'clock Movie.
Three brown faces turned
from the screen, the Bartender smiled.
Patti dropped her box, stepped back.
I said, "Water? Please." The bartender said,
"I'll do you one better, girl."
One hour we sat on red leather barstools,
drinking sweet Shirley Temples
watching her tap tap tap
while the men ate our cookies,
stacked them in uneven rows
and paid soft wads of cash.
I banged my ankles against the barstool,
keeping time with Shirley.
The old man with red hair and pecan skin
asked questions about school and grades,
stuff my father never asked.
I couldn't stop talking,
tangled tongue unsprung
for once while Patti snapped shut,
her face mute before her golden drink.
They made us leave before dark,
didn't want us out there past light,
courtin' disaster.

© 1995 by Maura Alia Bramkamp

Maura Alia Bramkamp's poetry has appeared in the Haight Ashbury Literary Journal, The Healing Woman, Exhibition and other journals. She teaches poetry workshops in the Chimacum Schools, Washington. "Tapping at the Hollywood Bar" was first published in Spillway.