David Lohrey

Kabuki Café

The chef stirs the pancake mix
and stirs me, too. I love her
masculine bowtie. She looks like
a soda fountain clerk circa 1959.

She keeps her hair cut smart
and wears slacks. She has
a flat chest and works at a brisk pace.
If she were a boy she’d make
me laugh. As it is, she makes me swoon.

It’s not that I’m into ogling chicks.
Good lord, no. I just appreciate
the effort, the development of
a caring soul who knows how
to use a whisk. She doesn’t
just throw things together. She’s
not just killing time.

Efficiency and excellence are
so rarely found. It’s a thrill
to see a girl embody both.
The Japanese understand these things.
It’s not just the sushi; it’s in
the way they bend. You find it
in their insincerity. It’s a performance.
They’re like ballerinas on the stage, not idle
dancers in their dressing rooms.

It is indeed like kabuki. Their actions
mask their pain. They study movement;
they rehearse each step. They want to know
who you are before saying hello. Otherwise,
the don’t know what to say. In a land
where speaking out could get you killed,
they don’t waste words.

Visitors get the cold shoulder
because they have not been introduced.
We’re like the help at a wedding
in the Hamptons, told to serve
the champagne and not to talk. Invisibility
is not due to race, it’s because we lack
consequence. In the West, a greeting
could lead to marriage. Here, hello literally
goes nowhere. It’s better to greet nobodies
with silence.

It is cruel. Many can’t see it. Some can’t
take it. Travelers temple-hop from Akasaka
to Kyoto in the belief they are welcome.
That’s one way of looking at it.
What’s more likely is that the orgasm and the ready
smile are put on for your pleasure. Each and every minute
is an agonized display. Secretly, the Japanese
can’t wait for you to go home. They can’t wait
for the curtain.

The Abomination of Good Cheer

Write something cheerful, advises
my dear cousin from the early
seventeenth-century, a wretched
girl born in a nondescript town-house
down on New Amsterdam’s Wall Street. Write
something less depressing, something
perhaps about gladioli or parmesan
cheese, please, she begs.

In those days, 14th Street was
Uptown. I should know. That’s
not too far from where the
Van Valkenburgh homestead was first staked
out, some 400 years ago. That’s
before women with wide bottoms
were body shamed and long before
men dared walk the streets hand
in hand like adolescent girls.
There was cow shit everywhere and
without a candle you had to sit
in the dark.

It was long ago. Back, back before
yesterday, when porcupines
ruled the waves. Back in the day,
as tattooed youths in bright, bleached
T-shirts say today, back before girls
gave blow-jobs for lunch money,
back before singers with gold-capped
teeth sang songs about shooting
bitches, when people lived in harmony
or tried to, and if they didn’t,
were shunned or driven off.

The Dutch settlers now are
largely forgotten. The Van Burens
and Roosevelts seem almost
quaint, just memories like Anastasia and the
Tsar; there aren’t even any photos.
One thinks of churning butter or, perhaps
of FDR’s stuffed birds. It was a long time ago
when the Dutch occupied the Hudson Valley;
long ago when they built their fort
on lower Manhattan. Who cares?
Now we dream of holidays
in the South Pacific: topless
girls and venereal disease.
Melville prevails.

But cheer up. There’s nothing wrong
that a little life can’t cure.
Think of sunflowers, think of John Coltrane,
not boll weevils. Remember the Alamo,
not the Holocaust. The American dream
carries on, ever-expanding, evolving. The
Dutch came and went. It’s all been
left in good hands. We stand
now blindfolded, ready to walk
the plank. The pirates are not
simpletons. They’re brothers and
sisters; they’re gung-ho. They just
want justice. Let the purge begin.
We’ll declare ourselves obsolete. Their
leaders read the comics; their rallying cry
is familiar: quack, quack, quack. Could
anything be more encouraging
than ducks on a mission?

Indecent Exposure

Memphis is on the Mississippi,
but nobody knows how to leave.
The horizon is on the other side of the river,
but nobody dares cross that bridge.
We are stay-at-home types, little chickens.
Everything in Memphis is thought the best.
I was taught the art gallery in the park
was bigger and better than the Met.
Second rate is not just good enough, it is described as fine.
“Who do you think you are?”
When we were kids, we ate chow mein from a can.
We put butter on our white rice.
We thought sliced bread was a thing of wonder.
We salted our watermelon.
Some of us were racists. Some still are.

When I was 12, my best friend Matt was accused
of having combed his pubes.
The boys at school almost drove him to suicide.
I was told at a middle-school party
to stand up and kiss my so-called girlfriend on the lips,
but that year at age 13 I didn’t know how or why.
I stood in the middle of the room and died.
One day I was singing the lyrics to the Stones’ “Satisfaction” as I entered class.
One of the girls sniffed, “How would you know?”
If you were not a stud, you were a dud. I felt surrounded by wolves.
It’s a miracle I survived or maybe I didn’t.
I still can’t sleep at night. I still wet my bed.

And yet when I look back I wonder how I ever left.
I left so much behind. I gave up all that for this.
I gave up Faulkner for Vogue.
I gave up the blues for rap. Shit, I gave up barbeque for tacos.
I gave up everything I knew for the unknown.
It is still unknown. It will always be so. I will always be lost.
I will never find my way home.

David Lohrey was born on the Hudson River just north of NYC but grew up in Memphis. He went out to California and graduated from U.C., Berkeley. After graduation, he began his teaching career in LA, but eventually wound up in Osaka, Japan where he taught for a while and got married. From there he went to Saudi Arabia and then to China. He is now teaching English to engineering students in Tokyo. He has reviewed books for The Los Angeles Times and The Orange County Register for many years, joined the Dramatists Guild, and served as a judge for the Los Angeles Ovation Awards. His plays have appeared around the country and in Canada; in Lithuania and Croatia, in translation.

His poetry can be found in Softblow, The Blue Mountain Review, Otoliths, Cecile’s Writers and Quarterday, In addition, recent poems have been accepted as part of anthologies published by the University of Alabama (Dewpoint), Illinois State University (Obsidian) and Michigan State University (The Offbeat). He recently joined the Sudden Denouement Literary Collective in Houston.

He is currently writing a memoir of his years living on the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf.
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