Three of Cups

for Brian D.

That night the vindaloo ruined my mouth
for anything but drink. Not the puckerings
of your gasoline, martinis, you called them,
slow and steel . . . I only had those once,
a December night you prepared to press
your luck. Who else would wait to order
on Christmas Eve just to see if it would 
all arrive? A tsunami of rounds, a carnival 
ride in the rain. It was V’s birthday,
so that started us off, bars accumulating
like compound interest: Botanica, blurred
light, Mexican Radio, wet salt, and me
getting broke like a plate. Remember our
first dinner with the soup thick as my waist
and the turkey splintered sweet off the neck?
Before Lori, the bold bartender from 1st &
A, wraps her boyfriend tight with her knees,
he shows us pilot-style how JFK Jr. went down,
how he had to be recovered . . . Must I squeeze 
a drop of blood into this the size of a pimento? 
Or is it enough to bring up this grave spiral of 
hands, my pockets turned out to tiny ghosts, 
and Lori paying twenty bucks in Three of Cups 
            for Volare oh oh oh oh . . . 
                        Cantare oh wo wo wo wo . . .
Beyond the magic circle of cigarette butts,
the man in the tux lives singing in our dreams . . .
Where are you now? What fuel burns your throat?
Who is holding your empty hand?


Copyright © 2023 by Gabrielle Civil. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 23, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets. 

About this Poem

“I don’t think of myself as nostalgic, but this poem suggests otherwise. Set in Lower Manhattan at the end of the nineties, it embodies memory in food, drink, motion, and sound. Here we encounter spicy vindaloo, sour martinis, salty margaritas, split pea soup, a bartender’s embrace, a pilot’s hand gestures, and a wandering Italian singer. As wistful as these recollections may be, catastrophe sits at the center. The death of John F. Kennedy Jr. links us to the passage of time, how we lose touch, and the tricky romance of being young.”
—Gabrielle Civil