The bartender’s got a book,

a shot-beaten copy of Thus

Spoke Zarathustra.


And there are all sorts

in here.  Camels, lions,

children, sheep.  “No”

the bartender says,

“all sheep, all sheep,

poor bastards.”


The flower lady comes down

the aisle of bar-wall and booths,

shouts “Flores! Flores!

over the drunken symphony.


Someone buys a rose.


The tamale lady appears

lugging a Coleman cooler

of steaming tamales:

intones “Tamales! Tamales!


They are good.


The sage lady breezes through

whispering “sage,” showing

bunches of the hazel herb

and Shaman cigarettes.


A loner buys a pack,

lights one.


A mariachi band meanders

to the center of the chaos,

commanding silence,

singing, singing.


Requests called out;

the hat passed ‘round.


An addict stumbles in

clothed in the perfume

of unabated suffering.

The bartender gives her

a five-spot smile

and a few wet dollars.


Some guy at the bar

picks up the book,

reads out loud

“Could it be possible?

This old saint in the forest

Has not heard anything of this,

That God is dead!”


But the saint and his bar backs have heard.


The lucky pairs and strays

getting sloshed to perdition

have heard. 


We have all heard

God’s death rattle echo

from modern-facility mountaintops

to air-conditioned malls

and fade in the old markets of El Corazón

de la Misión

and we know God

has passed away.


And when we hear the doctrine

of the world’s divine origin

preached at the corner of 24th and Mission

where tourists spin in circles

we do not believe a word.


We believe in the Flower Lady

making a buck on the earth’s beauty.


We believe in the Tamale Lady

making a living

from the earth’s bounty.


We believe in the Sage Lady

peddling the earth’s power.


We believe in the Mariachis

making music out of misery.


We believe in the Addict

lurching forward with grace.


We believe in the Tourists

in awe of everything,

pointing, pointing.


And we believe in Our Bartender

who heads home in the waning dark

and with all his starving soul

has faith he will sleep through the heaving,

full breaths of another

glorious morning.



© Dan O., included in Theory of Salvation.




The small moon rises slowly like a dilemma

I was too stupid to recognize at first.


The horizon of darkening trees

undulates like the waves of a body in desire.


The night sky, here, outside the city’s noisy halo

needs a new metaphor of light


or one borrowed from ancient times:

playground, guide, god’s inverse sieve,


surprise map that only the Chinese spotted.

I’ve come to my friend’s rural spread


to try to figure a few things out

among cow paths and cricketed grass


and the true light of real darkness

but staring into brilliant space, I get


even more confused and

I can only stay 'til Tuesday.

Dan O., copyright 2001 (from A Third Set of Teeth); appears in Better Than Starbucks, May 2018.