Gary Soto

1952 / Fresno, California

The Jungle Café

We could wipe away a fly,
Drink, and order that yellow
Thing behind the glass, peach
Or sweet bread. Sunlight
Is catching on a fork,
Toothy wink from a star.
The fan is busy, the waiter is busy,
And today, in this café
Of two dollars and fifty
Cents, we're so important
Dogs are shaking our hands.
"Welcome, turistas," they say,
Or might say if they could
Roll their Rs. Where we sit
It's three o'clock, and
Across the room, where
Old men are playing dominos
It's maybe later, it's maybe
Peru under their hats.
There are toads in this place
—sullen guards by the door—
And the bartender is just another
Uncle fooling with the radio.
"A little to the left,"
I shout, and he dials left,
Then right, until it's German
Polkas, accordions by the sea.
The toads move a little.
An old man clicks a domino.
Omar, my gypsy friend, puts in—
"Love is chasing me up my sleeve."
I salute him, he salutes me,
And together we're so drunk
We're making sense. Little
By little, with rum the color
Of a woman's arm, we're seeing things—
Of a dancer, no two,
Make that three with one chair.
And that man—the old one
Over there—is so blurry
He thinks he's flying.
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