Once I saw a man punch a homeless guy in the face.
It was afternoon. It was the mid-1980s. It was a bar
on the near West Side of Chicago. It was Charlie’s
on Randolph. It was winter and when the homeless
man walked in, the cold followed him the way it does,
bringing that brief shiver before the door slams
shut and seals the radiated heat back in. It was
hot inside. We drank cold Old Style from frothy
pitchers. We drank shots of unnamed house
bourbon that burned so pleasurably we might
have thought we were on some childhood beach,
catching rays near a blue ocean, safe in that little
house shaped by memory. Or we might have thought
we were falling, in a good way, through a starlit
night. And the falling, in and of itself, might have felt
like Grace, giving up in the face of memory. The homeless
guy was called, “Cincinnati,” because he told stories
about being a boxer who fought in small joints in that city
on the banks of the Ohio. Dave Torrence was
in no mood for Cincy’s long stories, so as the old
man bragged into the smoky air, Dave punched
him hard and the dragged him out the door.
Twenty minutes later, Dave returned, knuckles
bloody, a wicked smile on his face. He sat at
the bar and resumed drinking, fading into the background
of laughter and jukebox musings: Sitting on a dock by the bay—
and I prayed–Sing it Otis, make us forget who we have become
this winter day, Chicago.
Jesse Millner’s most recent poetry book, “Memory’s Blue Sedan,” was released by Hysterical Books of Tallahassee, Florida, in April 2020. He has a story in Best Small Fictions 2020. Jesse lives in Estero, Florida with his dog, Lucy.