1. Hotel Congress centennial

    Optimist Club by William Cordiero

    Optimist Club
    By William Cordiero

    A boy sashays across the dancefloor’s glimmers.
    You catch his eye, mascara’d, before he’s stolen
    wholly by the baffled, liminal menagerie
    of lights. With each chance flash and torque,
    a crowd of bodies lost—revealed—in garlands
    centaurs prance among as edge-bright quasars
    fractal. Vampires mottled by the fog-machine.
    Quick strobes decenter every solid fact;
    a slender moment freezes. A slope of shoulders,
    spaghetti tops, like slipshod snapshots blazoned
    in hipshot poses by flip paparazzi…
    Light skips again then stops. The brazen dark
    has rollicked you a myth of razed empires:
    all Rome, all London burning down, and Paris,
    then you remember that this hotel once
    blazed, 1934, the night-clerk ringing the exchange
    box; Humason could only save his violin;
    guests screaming past the toppled furniture,
    the team of engines gone berserk down 4th,
    a single slipper lingered on the steps—
    bleak gleams of smoke and murk as the police
    filed in. They pulled one drunken sot from bed,
    who sneered, “Shit, let the fucking place go down
    in flames, I got my room paid up this week!”
    All guests vacated, Dillinger included,
    whose two stoolpigeons asked a firefighter
    to retrieve their duffels stashed with pistols, rifles,
    more ammo than the cops possessed, a fool
    decision since—a tip-off later—and they’re seized
    in handcuffs with the gang. Cool hundred grand
    in damages. Burnt-out, rundown, the hotel,
    like the country, sunk in a Depression:
    charbroiled dustbowls, junkyards, breadlines, and
    train-hopping hobos scrawling secret signs
    between the thresholds where handouts are had
    or liquor could be swapped for work, if work
    were not some Shangri-La.

    So jump-cut to
    the mahogany bar with reconstructed trifold
    mirrors. You order Glenfiddich on the rocks.
    You people-watch this spun kaleidoscope
    where every turn dissolves, fades-in, and sparks
    a fire from which they recreate themselves
    as if decadence can be an end in itself—
    but still this reckless stupor’s just a truism
    by which you cope with the colossal night.
    You stare. An ice-cube’s splintered with a star.
    Its infant fame grows watery and soon
    the blurry room seems like your tumbler’s resin.
    You butt-dial back a drunk-text sent, an ex
    cathedra from your seat of learning; scroll
    for late-breaking updates with your dwindling data,
    swipe left, left, right—stock photos, selfies,
    dick pics, flames, etc. Hope sprung eternal, though
    time’s a zoetrope where motion is illusory.
    The clock-hands folding into mocking prayer,
    the pumpkin hour when even wishes to the fairy
    gods are hyped-up typos trapped in Bartleby’s
    dead letter drawer.

    So with this downcast lowdown,
    you stroll to Tiger’s Tap Room, cast a side-
    eye glance around, your pit-stains ripening,
    the music loud enough it shakes your flesh;
    your face half harlequin, half pixelated,
    a serape of shadow where your image maps.
    Erased. Your bloodshot cellphone gone to shit,
    you now forsake the chase, tap out, and grab
    a squat Red Stripe. You chug the sweating bottle,
    say hello to friends, mug a smile, and mellow out.
    A pessimism of intelligence, an optimist of will—
    you wander second-guessing through the space again
    until the DJ, scratching, crossfades the rhythm
    into a catchy riff’s hip-hop cadenza
    which revs, then shifts, sped to freefall over-
    drive, everyone jumping, hearts lifting when
    the beat’s been dropped. A wedding party
    that’s just let out now from the Copper Room
    comes crashing in. The joint is one incessant crush
    like suppurating, dripping hexagons
    cleft open from a honeycomb. This thrumming
    buzz is actually your skull. The thumping bass,
    your own lush pulse. Subwoofers raise the roof,
    trepan the soft interior vibrations
    imprisoned in your cerebellum.

    You step outside
    onto the patio. Drink in the cooler summer air
    beside the Cup where people congregate
    to smoke. A hummingbird dips down and sips
    a blossom over-spilling from a hanging
    planter. Still, the club shuts down within the hour.
    You study the cobbled walk you’ll have to scuff.
    Some stranger begs a light. You shake your head,
    and yet he nods and flirts, “Hey, what’s your name?
    I saw you earlier.” Then looking up, you see
    that all your obdurate and daring anguish
    had been projected. Confess one longing look’s
    possessed you, though you don’t know anything
    about him, by replying with a curt coy pout.
    The rococo furnishings of eros have arose
    from memory, that molten forge, which pressed,
    unfurls one gorgeous glass-blown bauble of
    a chandelier, its shape held fast, its surface changing,
    as it prisms hard-edged facts so they give way
    to plasma, a chasm bridged by ever-later styles
    of fire which burn all grief that came before.
    You offer him a cigarette and graze his hand,
    then take it; inching closer to this boy,
    slack-jawed and skinny, making out—
    the little bud of flame a voided rose.
    The ash sifts off. Last call. A whiff of smoke.
    You peek into the door, the chairs upturned,
    as streetlights jackpot every tiled penny.