Sipping from a perpetual cup of coffee Like a king drunk on his power, I sit in a booth at the Capital Café, Eager for two fried eggs, over hard, And soggy white toast To materialize from the spitting grill. I needn't even raise a finger, just turn, And one of three ladies-in-waiting Hastens to my beck with more steaming ichor.
But I have few illusions about my suzerainty; My influence extends only to the outermost boundaries Of this remote inner dominion, Camouflaged in flaking, water-stained paint Partially concealed by contact-paper fleurs-de-lis, Where the sky is a rusted tin ceiling Flecked with ten fluorescent, migrainous suns, Grease-smudged vents, grids, and ducts — A mosaic owing its design to abject neglect.
By sight, if not by name, I recognize ancient adversaries, Congregated in specious debate at the back table, Who owe no allegiance to my authority. I pinch my cheeks to remind myself That it takes more than imagination to defy Reality. Yet at times even a retired high-school teacher Yearns to rule by the divine right of kings — Or at least by the seat of his pants.
Use the player below to listen to Louis Daniel Brodsky read this poem.
The Capital Café is a collection of forty-eight poems, in two sections, set in a bedroom community of St. Louis and in a Missouri farm town. The poems build on each other like chapters in an engrossing novel. The first half is a slice of life observed by Moe Fischer, formerly a high-school English teacher, now a proofreader for the local newspaper, but always an eavesdropper, an oral historian, and a Jew, adrift in a belt of Baptist piety. The second section is a mosaic occurring at the "gas station turned café," related by rural Americans in seed caps and other regulars, such as the local car dealer, the mortician, and the Holsum Bread man, who spends his time winking furtively at the waitress (Reverend Bone's eighteen-year-old daughter).
Brodsky makes the reader understand that Redneck, U.S.A., isn't so much a specific geographic location as it is a state of being that exists in every big city and four-way-stop hamlet across the nation.
Louis Daniel Brodsky's poetry has reached new heights in The Capital Café, etching vivid portraits of small town Americans in middle America. . . . Writing with controlled passion, Brodsky has mapped two Missouri towns with a lyrical intensity that transcends language, speech, giving us a holy chant, a song of people trapped in the terrible blindness that afflicts only those who will not see. In Brodsky's deft hands, that chant soars above anger and fury into a brilliant song that will echo in the heart of the reader long after the book is closed. — Jory Sherman, author of the Spur Award-winning The Medicine Horn
The Capital Café, by Louis Daniel Brodsky, reflects a Jewish sense of alienation, of being a stranger in a strange land, but more than that, it allows the reader to see the truest versions of America. Brodsky's characters lift up the skirts of the Klan and peek underneath. This is a risky book. Beneath the steaming grits and biscuits and gravy, Brodsky reveals startling visions of redneck America that not only exist in Missouri but in every state of this fair nation. — Adrian C. Louis, author of Among the Dog Eaters
. . . the poems really exist all at once, portraying every nuance of a small community organically and simultaneously. Brodsky's influences are many, from the Greek poets to Swift to Faulkner. But for me, The Capital Café reveals small town life with the same intimacy and moral purpose as Sherwood Anderson. — Gregory Curtis, former editor of the 1991 National Magazine Award-winning Texas Monthly