Salt of the Earth - Jessica Server
Before my senior year at Boston University, I was introduced to the Cantab Lounge. I had just turned 21, had just returned from living abroad (where I’d discovered my tolerance for tequila), and after having spent most of my life acting older than my years, had just learned to embrace the peak of my youth.
A Central Square dive, the Cantab became a kind of classroom for me – the kind with bluegrass and twinkly lights. I recall a sense of great clarity, as though the Cantab was right where I was supposed to be.
My tastes have since changed, moving from clear – tequila, gin, and vodka— to the complex, the browns and reds of whiskey, bourbon, and wine. Craft cocktails. Old Vine Zinfandels.
While I love the smoky earthiness of where I’ve landed, I sometimes crave those unfettered undertones - juniper or agave – that cut to my youth, even knowing that memory has distilled them into something much simpler than truth.
Scotch - Chivas, Chartreuse, Sorel, Apple, Lemon at Salt
The Cantab Lounge
The fifth string of the twangy mandolin
pulled on my shirt’s loose third button.
Charlie’s intense eyes, his face caught up in
a violation of the white moon-face
of his banjo, before he left that place
and moved to Nashville, before I made a case
for myself; I had to grow the fuck up.
Long summer nights were hot with sap
dripping from trees to the Charles. The club
hid me in all that freedom to solo.
I envied them, in lax plaids and bolo
ties, flaunting their sexy pit stains that show
ardor, how men can be grimy and hot
and still beautiful. Effortless charm bought
strum by strum—like twisted threads in a knot
they needed only each other, the stink
of the place, cheap whiskey, their own fingers.
I tapped the table, downed another drink.
I never told them I played, could fingerpick
and strum; I preferred fandom as I licked
salt off the pad of my hand. It was quick
when later at the club Charlie’s hands found
my ass, played it like a five-string around
the floor. He studied me close, churned me out
in old timey rhythms. I was once
a tuned and polished dulcimer—a young
rare thing, yet easily mastered. I clung
to the music upon me. And just as fall
arrived, I lost it; chose instead those walls
and the club’s cool gray cement floors. It all
happened at the Cantab, where I turned down
settling down, replaced it with dim lights, brown
corduroy thin at the knees from owning
the music. It was the twang. The cheap feel
of damp breezes up my jean skirt. A real
desire that one night, I’d shock them all, peel
two shots of tequila down at the Cantab,
sling a banjo on my knee. So badly
I wanted to jam, toss my hair, their plaid
sweaty equal. But I didn’t. So I
slid the skirt further up my pale thin thigh
and played the part I knew. Later, high
and blithe on the stoop of Charlie’s worn, white
Central Square three-flat, fiddles collided
with the burnt morning, let loose the tide—
a tongue flicking its way down my neck’s
skin in perfectly measured flesh-frets,
a hand unbuttoning my shirt on the bed—
later still, I stroked his banjo’s pearly strings,
slid each nickel-plated rope between my fingers
as he slept, his rolling breaths falling into sync.
Kelly's Bar - Nancy Krygowski
For more than 20 years, and in many different states, Sherrie and I have
drunk together. Since we've lived in Pittsburgh, Kelly's has been a
favorite bar, probably because its dim lighting, loud music, and low
slung vinyl booths recall the dive bars of our youth. There, the past
mingles with the present.
My thoughts about the ways in which drinking--what I drink, how I drink, why I drink, who I drink with--has changed for me over the years prompted this poem.
Manhattan - Kelly's Bar
Someone says a woman’s name and someone else says, she’s getting
divorced but I only met her at a party, a nervous hour and a half where
I didn’t have much to say, not so different from now—sitting in a bar
with women who won’t talk about their marriages, fears,
the fact that this is our lives—so we talk about clothes, food,
sometimes kids which makes me miss my 20’s and 30’s when life
was about sex. We didn’t sleep because of sex, we ran because of sex,
streaked our hair, hurt our friends, searched for used combat boots,
free condoms because of sex and more sex—and we worked
to buy alcohol which we drank for fun, not to relax. Now the almost-
divorced woman is as close as we get to that gut rush, fever gasp, life-
and-death feeling that has nothing to do with death, which is why
we want it. So easy, the woman at the party had said, handing me
a scallion smeared with cream cheese, wrapped in ham. She couldn’t
think what to bring then remembered her mother, cigarette in right hand,
tray in left, heels clicking linoleum then quieting on shag as she served
her friends onions. How simple life can be, the woman had said, or that’s
what my reaching heart wanted to think. Did she know then her husband
would leave? That she didn’t love him, or he didn’t love her? I know
these words are merciless, too roomy to hold love’s delicate glasswork.
Same as the question I won’t ask: What makes us happy? We pause
long and loud when the waiter says, Would you like a second round?
Jessica Server received her MFA from Chatham University. Currently, she writes a weekly food column for Pittsburgh City Paper. She works as a writer and teaching artist in Pittsburgh. Sever the Braid is her debut chapbook.
Nancy Krygowski’s first book of poems, Velocity, won the Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize from the University of Pittsburgh Press. She was the Booker of Poets for the Gist Street Reading Series.