Neil Shepard


used to sit in this bar and sip margaritas for hours
and talk and talk until the cows came home, talk
in a way we don’t talk anymore, talk a tad
courtly and courteous, even if they
weren’t. I used to marvel what they did
with their retirement – interesting word, ”retirement” –
to withdraw into seclusion – goes back
all the way to the 1500s. Before that, I guess they just
died on the job. Yes, I used to wonder what they did
with their time –and now I’m doing it too – killing time
in a pleasant haze as the booze settles in, the waitress
walks over with salsa and chips and says
she doesn’t know where the time goes
while she’s on her feet all afternoon,
The waitress is focused on serving,
not thinking about death. That’s not
her job. That’s my job. Her job
is to bring the drinks and chips
until we die. My job is to remind us
there are only so many drinks and chips.
What a waste, we say, and wag our heads, but time
takes us down a peg or two, whether we’re making
it in Manhattan or on a rattan couch with some cat-woman
or volunteering time at the local cat shelter or bringing the spoon
up to the dim one’s lips who’s forgotten what a mouth
is for, and then, time takes us down
a peg or two more, and we might as well drink up
and order another margarita while we’re at it, and some god-damn
hot salsa and salt-lime chips, if you don’t mind me
getting specific and misty on you, saying what’s really
on my mind, while we order what’s left to order.

Neil Shepard’s latest book, How It Is: Selected Poems, came out in 2018 with Salmon Poetry. His new collection, The Book of Failures, is due in 2022. He edited Green Mountains Review for a quarter-century and recently founded the online magazine Plant-Human Quarterly. He splits his time between Vermont and NYC.