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Poem: The Author Mural Above the Coffee Bar at Barnes & Noble 

Not one is smiling.
Not even Twain.
But it is hard to smile with a big cigar in your mouth.
To Twain’s right is Oscar Wilde.
He looks lost and embarrassed.
It has just occurred to him that he is not in the gay bar he thought he had gone into.
To Twain’s left is George Bernard Shaw.
He and Twain are trading witticisms.
They’re trying to one-up each other.
But Wilde has already one-upped both of them.
Next to Twain and Shaw, at his own table, Thomas Hardy is smoking a pipe.
He is leaning over toward them.
He’s deciding if he wants to write a comic novel for a change.
He decides he doesn’t.
I take it back.
Kafka is smiling.
But he’s wearing the wrong hat.
It should be a black bowler, not a black fedora.
At least it’s black, like the suit he always wore, even in summer.
Emily Dickinson and Pablo Neruda share the next table.
This is her first time out in years.
She’s dazed.
She’s staring off into space.
She’s writing a poem on a napkin.
She has already put a pile of napkins in her coat pocket.
At least she’s not wearing that white dress.
Neruda wrote her a fan letter.
The sort that Robert Browning wrote to Elizabeth Barrett.
I love your poems and I love you.
He isn’t looking at her either.
He’s writing a poem in his head.
Something in Spanish about taking off her clothes.
Tagore looks sad.
In fact, Tagore is the saddest one, except for Emily Dickinson.
Nabakov and Joyce are sitting shoulder to shoulder.
They are looking in opposite directions.
But they seem to be sharing an arm.
Next to them, Dorothy Parker is one-upping Oscar Wilde.
But no one’s paying any attention to her.
Here’s the left profile of a handsome man with blonde hair.
He’s paying attention to an attractive woman in a slouch hat.
Neither one is named.
A mistake.
The man is surely F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the woman is certainly Zelda.
I recognize them from photographs.
Then again, perhaps it isn’t a mistake.
Perhaps it’s the artist’s editorial comment.
Or Barnes’s comment.
Or Noble’s.
At least Fitzgerald’s face is there.
Pity poor Hemingway.
There’s no trace of him.
And Hawthorne.
And Melville.
And Poe.
Where are they?
But Whitman is here, drinking his cup of leaves of grass herbal tea.
At the last table sit Faulkner, Steinbeck, and Eliot.
Faulkner is smoking a pipe and on his first or third bourbon and soda.
A seltzer bottle is on the table, next to two empty glasses.
Did Steinbeck drink one?
Did Eliot drink one?
Eliot is drinking a cup of coffee.
Steinbeck looks embarrassed.
Way off at the other end of the bar, all by himself, sits Anthony Trollope.
He’s writing yet another novel I will never read.

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