Kensington’s Best Bartender

I’ve worked at R, One and a Half and now, here,
Bentley’s Place. The other bars are closed.
There are no customers left. They’ve all been killed.
Just this week, a guy was hacked with a machete
Across the street. Two weeks ago, two guys were shot.

It’s the drugs, you know. They do it right in here,
In the bathroom. I’ve caught a few. The men’s room
Has no lock, but the ladies’ room does. Some girl
Would go and stay in there like, you know, forever,
So I’d knock. She’d scream, “I’m doing a number two!”
Bullshit you are, so I’d pry open that door with a knife
I keep behind the bar. Sometimes they’d get so scared,
They’d drop that needle right in the toilet! Blood
Would be seeping from their arm, and they’d be pissed
Because they didn’t get their high. Whatever.
A guy would come in, order a beer, then nod off,
And I’d have to kick him out, too. He’d say,
“I didn’t get enough sleep last night.” Bullshit!

If you show me an attitude, you’re outta here, but
I don’t have to like you to serve you. I can’t stand
Lesbians, for example, but I still serve them.
I saw these two lesbians on TV kissing each other,
And they were, like, 89-years-old, and they were going
Muah, muah, muah! Yuck! Actually, I don’t care
If they were 20. It’d still be gross. If I want to fall in love
With a woman, I can just look at myself in the mirror.
Like my ma said, “There’s a lot of sausage out there,”
And she should know, she had 21 children.

I came here when I was only one-month-old, but
I’ve been back to Puerto Rico three times, when
I was eight, fourteen and twenty-one, when my son
Was only two-years-old. He’s thirty-four now,
And still living in Kensington. My daughter also.
I raised them right. They know right from wrong.

For fifteen years, though, I was an alcoholic.
I’d go through two fifths of Southern Comfort a day,
At least, plus other stuff. I’d do five drinks at a time,
All different kinds, rum, beer, wine, Southern Comfort,
Plus a cocktail. Whatever. Customers would buy me
Drinks up and down the bar. Once, though, I fell
Backward and was knocked out cold. An ambulance
Had to come, but at the hospital, I jumped right out
Of that ambulance, and somehow ended up back here.

Yeah, I know, it was only three blocks away, but still,
I was way gone, you know. The ambulance had to
Come pick me up again. It wasn’t my last time.
I’d go four days without eating anything but
A slice of bread, just to soak up that alcohol.
My hands would get all gnarly, like this, so
I couldn’t open my fingers, so I’d have to go
Into the hospital for the IV drips. Finally,
A doctor said, “If you keep going like this,
You’ll never see your grandchildren, so what
Do you want more, your grandkids or booze?”
That’s when I finally stopped, and I haven’t had
A single drop of alcohol in 15 years and a half.

They said I was a trip, but I was flying
Without any luggage, so I had to change.
Though I’m around alcohol all day, I don’t crave it.
This Christmas, I’m making two batches of coquito,
To make extra cash. It’s a Puerto Rican eggnog.
It only costs me 6 bucks a bottle, but I sell it for 18,
And I’ll probably sell 30 bottles, at least, this year.

I see new faces all the time, but sometimes, I’d jump
When a guy shows up. Hey, wasn’t he shot? Did he
Climb out of the grave just for happy hour?
Like they say, it’s hard to leave Kenzo. Even
When you’re dead, you still need to return.

Linh Dinh is the author of two books of stories, five of poems, and a novel, Love Like Hate. He's tracking our deteriorating social scape through his frequently updated photo blog, Postcards from the End of America. Read other articles by Linh.