Cedar nights

Another poem from my Jackson Pollock sequence, this one about the legendary Cedar Tavern in New York. ‘We often wrote poems while listening to the painters argue,’ Frank O’Hara said. There is nowhere in the world now where such a place could exist, tolerant and cheap and nondescript enough for artists to gather in that way (tolerant to a degree: Pollock was banned for tearing the door off the men’s room in a drunken rage).

Cedar Nights

Kerouac baptised the ashtray with his piss,
Rothko gazed into his glass, lost
in a haze of smoke (later he would slit

each arm, two razored lines, maroon on white),
while Gorky picked a fight with every stooge
who strayed within his reach (his wild eye,

hangdog face, peasant hands, the dreams
he couldn’t shake). De Kooning pontificated
over water (bastard) and by his lead

women shattered into pieces, all lips
and tits. Klein splattered the bar in black,
while dizzy Ginsberg’s angelheaded hipsters

swore, and sang, and toppled off their stools,
then hurled themselves into the negro streets;
Frank was brashly erecting something new

from shreds of Rauschenberg and Lady Day.
And Jack? He was painting up a storm,
(when he was sober), admiring his fame

from the summit of the Gods, until the night
she breezed into the Cedar, all ass
and attitude, looking for a guy,

and there he was, the prize, the mark, the Jack
of Hearts, the cover boy. She sidled over:
what’s a girl gotta do to get a drink?