Ode to a Bar

A lot of getting ready to go to Korea at this point is about filling out tedious paperwork and getting TEFL certified and figuring out what to pack. All of these are pretty damn important, and I’m sure some will features as the subjects of their own posts soon. But just as important as getting everything together to get to Korea is the process of disengaging from the U.S., and particularly Flagstaff.

I’ve never really lived anywhere else. This place has been my home for more than 20 years, and if you know anything about me and my academic interests, you might have noticed that the idea of place and its relationship to identity is important to me. Flagstaff, thus far, has been my place. My friends are here, my family–for the most part–is here, my childhood memories take place here, and there are things about this town and places in it that sort of define me.

One piece of Flagstaff that has become a defining feature of my new, independent life is the bar, Hops on Birch. After getting out of the bad situation I was in, I resolved to spend more time with friends and family and more time just living life. Hops has been a place for me to do both of those things over the past several months.

Taps at Hops on Birch! (This photo was stolen from Nick Clark: instagram.com/nickrayclark)

Taps at Hops on Birch! (This photo was stolen from Nick Clark: instagram.com/nickrayclark)

The first time I went to Hops on Birch, it was Thanksgiving. My brother had become a regular patron there over the preceding months, and I was definitely curious about the place (although it was a beer bar and at the time I wasn’t much of a beer drinker). Nick and I spent the holiday afternoon and evening at my mom’s house in Winslow, and on the drive back in he told me, “I’m taking you to Hops.” That was the beginning of Hops transforming from his bar to my bar.

Since that first night, I’ve come to think of the H.o.B. staff as my friends. I’ve attended open mics and trivia nights (even helped host one–Geek T.V. and English Class were my topics, and people DID NOT like me very much!). Perhaps most valuable to me, though, has been reading poetry at every Barley Rhymes poetry slam I could make it to.

I’ve always kind of enjoyed public speaking, although it’s really nerve wracking for me–maybe it’s something to do with being empowered by doing things that scare you. Reading poetry is especially challenging because a poem is not just something you put your time and energy into creating; a poem–like most art–tends to be a deeply personal telling of some aspect of yourself. When I started going to Hops regularly, a large part of me was looking at all kinds of things in my life and declaring, “Challenge Accepted.” So, I decided to read.

The community of Barley Rhymes turned out to be a deeply supportive and encouraging one. The crowd cheers for virgins like they’re watching their first live performance of the Rocky Horror Picture Show (without the teddies and fishnets), and individuals will personally walk up to you after you’ve finished and tell you what they loved about your reading.

Last night, was the latest Barley Rhymes, and while I was listening to one of the last poets read, I was struck by just how much I love it here and how much I am going to miss this place when I’m gone. I wrote Ode to a Bar to capture that moment, that feeling of knowing that no matter how amazing what I’m doing with my life is, there will always be a little part of me that misses poetry and beer at my favorite Flagstaff bar.

Ode to a Bar

The rough words of poets, unpublished,
drift into the room.
The crowd is so silent
I can hear
the sounds of glasses submerged in dishwater
in the back of the room.

This is the place I go
when I don’t feel like going out,
the place I sit alone
sipping 90 minutes
or Myrcenaries
or whatever’s good and on tap.

In this moment,
the summer air squeezes in the doorway,
I.D. unchecked,
and settles at a barstool,
and orders up a cold pint
of something light.
The bartender tips his hat,
a little smirk crossing his lips,
and pours the guy a beer,
and all of you,
who’ve had a couple pints yourselves
and should be a little rambunctious,
sit together,

In this moment,
no one is chasing anyone,
no one is fighting,
no one is figuring out the right words to say.
In this moment,
we all just listen.

One year from now,
this will all be different.
Some new hotshot kid will be pouring your beers,
but you all
won’t be here anyway.

One year from now, you’ll be living in Portland,
or New York, or L.A.,
and you’ll be writers–real writers–
or artists, or musicians,
and you’ll drink in bars
that remind you a little of this one.

One year from now,
I’ll be back in this town,
and it will be the same old place it’s always been,
but when I go out at night,
I’ll know that I don’t fit anymore.

One year from now,
I’ll remember the breeze
and the sound of the glasses
and you
and your reverence for words,
and I’ll think back to this moment,
and I’ll say, “That was my bar.”

That was my bar.


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