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Al Purdy "A Sensitive Man"



This is from 2002 and features Canadian poet Al Purdy's poem "At The Quinte Hotel." The piece tells the story of a man's experience at the bar. I've had one or two of those myself. The video stars Gordon Downie of The Tragically Hip.

I am drinking
I am drinking beer with yellow flowers
in underground sunlight
and you can see that I am a sensitive man
And I notice that the bartender is a sensitive man too
so I tell him about his beer
I tell him the beer he draws
is half fart and half horse piss
and all wonderful yellow flowers
But the bartender is not quite
so sensitive as I supposed he was
the way he looks at me now
and does not appreciate my exquisite analogy
Over in once corner two guys
are quietly making love
in the brief prelude to infinity
Opposite them a peculiar fight
enable the drinkers to lay aside
their comic books and watch with interest
as I watch with interest
A wiry little man slugs another guy
then tracks him bleeding into the toilet
and slugs him to the floor again
with ugly red flowers on the tile
three minutes later he roosters over
to the table where his drunk friend sits
with another friend and slugs both
of em ass-over-electric-kettle
so I have to walk around
on my way for a piss
Now I am a sensitive man
so I say to him mildly as hell
‘You shouldn’ta knocked over that good beer
with them beautiful flowers in it’
So he says to me ‘Come on’
so I Come On
like a rabbit with weak kidneys I guess
like a yellow streak charging
with flower power I suppose
& knock the shit outa him & sit on him
(he is just a little guy)
and say reprovingly
‘Violence will get nowhere this time chum
Now you take me
I am a sensitive man
and would you believe I write poems?’
But I could see the doubt in his upside down face
in fact in all the faces
‘What kinda poems?’
‘Flower poems’
‘So tell us a poem’
I got off the little guy but reluctantly
for he was comfortable
and told them this poem
They crowded around me with tears
in their eyes and I wrung my hands feeling
for my pockets for
it was a heart-warming moment for Literature
and moved by the demonstrable effect
of great Art and brotherhood of people I remarked
‘ – the poem oughta be worth some beer’
It was a mistake of terminology
for silence came
and it was brought home to me in the tavern
that poems will not really buy beer or flowers
or a goddam thing
and I was sad
for I am a sensitive man.

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