on Dave Awl

by Ayun Halliday


Laughing Sal
Laughing Sal from the Museé Mechanique, San Francisco
(photo: Cary Norsworthy)

Asked to consider my friend Dave Awl's copious and wholly original literary output, I am amazed that what springs to mind is not some talking cat, ominous dream-vegetable or even Laughing Sal, the vintage boardwalk attraction for whom Dave feels an inexplicable kinship, but two easily overlooked words in a language I might have understood if only I hadn't studied French, like an idiot. Estrellas solamente. Stars only. A lyrical line becoming more so in context, as two restaurant workers (one of them a dishwasher, the other, Dave, a great poet, but I shudder to imagine the kind of waiter he must have made...) turn their attention from the garbage bags they're hauling to the lack of a moon.

I get a lump in my throat whenever a moment such as that one is granted a reprieve from the vast ordinariness of everyday life. If the dishwasher's lovely reiteration of a Chicago sky is Whoville, then Dave is surely as caring a believer as Horton the Elephant.

I should note that before I clapped eyes on The Buddha Receiving a Gift of Heart-Shaped Chocolates as something to be read on the page, I heard its author speak it from the stage of the Neo-Futurarium. I've always loved the way he permitted those estrellas to shimmer for just a tiny bit longer than anything else in the poem, the amount of time it takes to exhale. Somehow it managed to encapsulate the fatigue at the end of the shift, the side work yet to be done, the country the dishwasher had left behind, the sadness of a night on which there was no moon and the beauty of two near-strangers looking for one. Nice one, Dave.

The last lines of the poem reference a hypothetical time in the future when

"these lives end, and events become meaningless
as they were always intended to be."

Yeah, lives do end (and eulogies are grand provided the eulogized is around to enjoy 'em! It'd look good on a tombstone, don't you think? (¿Estrellas solamente?) As for the lack of meaning... forgive me but I persist in the belief that the author doesn't believe it either.

Continue to Christopher Piatt's observations on Dave Awl.