sing your own song…. café society in a small town

there’s a big round table 
where they meet 
and sit 
somebody once
politely asked 
‘can anybody sit here 
or is it a club’ 
it’s not 
it’s just habit 
and familiar 
even Arthurian 
they might suppose 
because there are jousts 
and fallings-out 
and stompings-off
and comings-together
you know
the usuals
among friends
and hangers-on
could be familiarity 
holds them together
for they are
or aspire to be:
letterpress printers
and so on
some are just talkers
or poseurs
others are
rock music completists
aiming to own everything
still others are politicos –
well it’s better said
they talk politics

some veer away
from reality
some have religion
some are troubled
some seem un-so
they’re not young 
their children
are at least teen-age
most are well grown-up
with children of their own
and attendant worries
love affairs seem absent
but there’s covert
competition between them
ah how to escape it
in these sorry times?
so how do they look
the members of 
this club which isn’t?
a bit arty
is the answer 
by and large
the women dye their hair
are choosey 
with their clothes
careful with their make-up
the men less so
one or two
don’t give a stuff
a couple of others
are dandies
hair is worn long
beards abound
in the 1940s
they might all
have been called
the printers have 
inky fingers
the painters have
clean hands

most don’t have regular jobs
or any come to that
none are famous nationally
some have been heard of
only in their own town
just one or two beyond
others are hardly known
outside the café
mostly they’re inclined
to take their work
very seriously
it’s unlikely any
earn their living
that way
this is not
The Café Royal
or Les Deux Magots
or The Cedar Tavern
at present there’s not
a Simone de Beauvoir
or an Alberto Giacometti
seated at the round table
the battered ghosts 
of Augustos John
and Nina Hamnett
don’t hover behind them
waiting for a seat
no Fitzrovia here
no Soho
no Rive Gauche
no Greenwich Village
the seated ones
in this café society
are provincials
fame doesn’t beckon 
their talents
and probably never will
and what of the café?
well what a story 
is that….

the young women
who work there
are chosen for their beauty
it would seem
many are resting actresses
the food they serve
is locally grown
and biodynamic
it’s so virtuous
it’s an act of piety to eat
the actresses though
roll their own outside
and smoke
like back-garden barbeques
the café styles itself
an ‘arts café’
does fame trading the boards
beckon the actresses?
does it matter?
the café itself is a theatre
its patron its director
its customers its repertory
all are actors
whether they know it
or not
there are other tables
where other things happen
though they’re not round
and after practice
the morning choir 
comes in
on a natural high
one man always sings
as he bursts through the door
he may not be
the only one singing
flushed and spaced-out
they shout at each other
the noise is deafening
and far from tuneful

the yoga-istas
are more spiritual
they drift in
from whatever they do
on their rolled-up mats
and have earnest encounters
the notice boards outside
hymn every holistic alternative
in the world
there are a variety
of yoga practices on offer
and more religions
and spiritual experiences
than you can shake a wand at
it’s bewildering
though for some
it’s clearly bewitching
there could even be
more therapists in the café
than there are people
it may be too
the last redoubt
of the rainbow-striped jersey
and stray dreadlock
frocks habitually 
are worn over jeans
T-shirts are invariably black
ugly trainers are de rigueur
there are berets
tweed caps
straw hats swiped
from French impressionists
and charms –
mainstream society
has passed disdainfully by

the round table
is seized by mothers
and coddled toddlers
its sticky top gets covered
with spilled milk
gingerbread men
tableaux of toys
lovely things
the café’s heavy dailies
are sodden and removed
the board and chessmen
take a powder
so does the arts crowd
unwilling to be crushed
by the impromptu crèche
the sound-system
plays on regardless
you can hear anything
more or less
in café society
though no Elvis
Celine Dion
Bonnie Tyler
or One Direction
(it’s 2015 remember!)
plenty of ambient soundscape
is available though
as well as
World Music
serious rock
chosen chansonniers
and the actress-waitresses’
own dramatic favourites
it’s all too beautiful
The Small Faces once sang
although it’s all too loud
for some
all too quiet
for others
while the shouting choir
ignores it all

so that’s it really
from the ever-changing art
on the arts café walls:
sniffed at 
by the round-tablers
endless posters and fliers
for poetry readings
café society celebrations
when there’s something
to celebrate
maybe it should 
celebrate itself more often
cafés need society
society needs cafés 
most small town
have one at least
if they haven’t 
they should make one
while there’s time:
a coffee
a croissant
a chanson
and wholly communion
is all you need
so get to it
create café society
wherever you are
you are not alone
you are everyone
even so
always and forever….
sing your own song 


Jeff Cloves
Illustration: Claire Palmer





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