Jesus Walks into a Bar

(This is for Sean Lovelace, who insists there ought to be more poems about Jesus walking into a bar.)

It is always darker than it should be,
but over the pool table, a halo
of florescent light. My father, his brother,
like weathered sailors, dock at the bar
with other tired shipmates, hunched,
feet propped on the reflective footrests,
haunches resting heavy in the seat.
Through the haze of Winstons
they watch Nascar. The rules on bar stools
are simple: buy a round, put some quarters
on the table for a game of pool,
pick a tune or two on the juke box.

A shaft of light splits the cloud of smoke
when the door swings open, and a man
not so unlike the deckhands lined up at the bar
walks in. Heads turn and nod, weary hands lift
a slow acknowledgement as he orders up a Miller
then tromps to the juke box in mud-caked boots
and hovers, punches in his number, and Hank sings
There’s a tear in my beer and I’m crying for you dear…

“Rack ‘em up,” he grunts. My father
and the stranger call corners, waltz around the felt
taking shots and drinking rounds, shake hands
when the eight ball drops, leaving the chalk-smeared
cue to idle on the table. Dad lays five dollars
on the bar, “This one’s on me,” and they drink –
to peace, to love, to redemption.
The men at the bar tip their caps and turn
to watch the man descend the stairs
before the door closes. “That guy’s
all right,” Dad says, taking up his bottle,
“I hope he returns someday.”

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