Hopper’s Nighthawks, by Mark Goldstein
Absent any other sign of life, but for the four.
Tickled a Phillies was still a nickel;
yeah, still America’s No. 1 Cigar.
When refinished in a shade of cherrywood,
the repurposed counter lost its patina.
Standing for a past century
in a smokey corner tavern now displaced,
it was bellied up to by the locals.
Some pulled up close on wobbly stools:
hammering down shots, thinking of loves lost,
glimpsing red eyes in a dusty barroom mirror,
ruing not having lived the life
one coulda, shoulda lived.
Many elbows, clasped hands and throbbing heads
once rested on that old oak slab’s rounded edge,
worn smooth as a mother’s shoulder.
From up above unseen, fluorescent tubes
illuminate the diner’s pale ocher wall
and darker ocher kitchen door.
Bathing in white unnatural light: stool seats,
the store-front’s jade-colored sill,
projecting a curving, blue-grey crescent glow
out on the sidewalk as the block bends around.
It streaks vividly off the two gleaming silver urns,
the stooped-down counter guy’s glowing back
and his paper cap’s white crown.
There’s no glinting silverware, nor ashtray to be found
for the ashless cigarette jammed
between the fingers of his stiff right hand.
The man seated facing us with hawkish schnoz
and rakish fedora looks defeated, mad, or sad.
Upset, perhaps by a too brief romantic interlude
on this most-likely, last date out for him
with the fine gal from the office.
His vivid red-bloused companion
seems composed, a bit less stressed.
Pondering a nibble on what looks like
a thin canapé of watercress,
her high hopes for him about petered out.
Knowing now what her mother meant
when she said she owed it to herself
to make the break when the moping starts.
A bulky body bulges within the snug blue suit
of the man seated, back to us, alone.
Is that glass half-empty or half-full?
One can speculate; he doesn’t have a raptor’s face
or a mug like Al Capone.
It’s left for us to flesh that in,
as is the spare West Village square
we stare at, in oil on canvas.
Idle salt and pepper shakers rest at the ready,
please pass the sugar Honey,
just a half glass-tube view of stale coffee,
another vial of clear hot water spied
to monitor what’s left in the sleek steel cisterns, to sustain.
The nocturnals bask in the diner’s glow.
Outside, across the lampless, narrow well-swept street,
dark apartment shades and shuttered shops in shadow,
vacant for all we know, but for a cash register
vaguely discerned through a store window.
A carefully wrought angular exercise in color, light, line and form.
Imaging a sparse late night snack in an all-night café.
A brush stroke conjured into a sandwich:
a bite briefly held up enroute from hand to mouth
as another chance to connect elopes alone.
Attracted to the light, the viewer flits into the painting’s frame.
Drawn to more than its visual yin and yang.
More than a yen for that sweet twinge
when quick-singeing light tears up a squinting eye.
A moody film noir soundtrack eases in;
comforting, but mournful, melancholic, bittersweet.
Perched, aquiline, backs facing the dark corner
under artificial glow, we begin
to slide into the ruffled nighthawk’s skin.
A Bronx Baby Boomer who began writing in 12th grade, Mark Goldstein graduated from the State U. of NY with a degree in English (class of '72!). He participated in poetry workshops at The New School and The 92nd St. Y. Marriage, kids, gettin' 'n spendin' etc interrupted the Muse until downsized/retirement in 2016. Now, playing creative catch-up and spending precious time tediously seeking a venue to share some of his eclectic pieces.
Read more ekphrastic works on this iconic painting here.
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