The Lounge at New York Central

I had a meeting yesterday with a European colleague at the Grand Hyatt in New York. We were introduced by a mutual acquaintance from outside the firm for which we both work.

As we met and ascended the stairs to the Lounge at New York Central, I was reminded of a poem I wrote in that bar many years ago, while working for an international publishing agency.

“Drink Meeting at the Grand Hyatt Sun Garden” wasn’t a very good poem, I think, but it well illustrated my discomfort at the time, as an artist in a business setting.

I used this poem in a talk called “Poetry & Business Life,” which was about the long tradition of poet-business people (Wallace Stevens, T.S. Eliot, James Dickey, Dana Gioia, etc.), and which I wrote about previously on this blog.

The name of the bar has changed, as has my comfort level with business life over the years. Here is my poem. “Drink Meeting at the Grand Hyatt Sun Garden”:

Jazz standards fill the atrium,

black and white and one uniform shade of gray

—is this a Woody Allen film?

I’m waiting for Soandso on business,

not my business,

but the people I work for, theirs—

Any moment Woody will walk in

with Mia Farrow or Somebody,

an entourage, paparazzi.

He’ll head straight for my table,

and shake my hand;

the press will want to know

who I am, and I’ll no longer

be “a minor poet, not very conspicuous.”

I fight the urge to bolt

out of the Sun Garden bar

and find some dark, unmonikered pub,

like those my father frequented.

I realize the discomfort he must have felt

when he’d visit the clean, well-lighted

establishments of Tokyo, or LA, or Miami

on business, not his

but the people he worked for, theirs—

This is not my world:

a foreign post for a poet

and accidental businessman.

I suspect they’d throw me out

if not for my Brooks Brothers suit

and American Express card, not mine

but the people I work for, theirs—

Soandso is late, or lost,

or has forgotten…no,

it turns out she’s been waiting

in the lobby, fifteen minutes, twenty,

only just now thought

to check the bar—“Silly me…”

No Woody, no Mia, no Diane Keaton.

(But wait, isn’t that Mr. Shawn by the piano?

And isn’t that Donald Trump on the divan?)

Just a meeting, information shared—

perhaps, one day, we could be friends—

business transacted,

not my business,

but what has become mine—

I light a cigarette after Soandso has gone.

“Are you finished with this one, sir?”

I order another drink

and finish my poem. This

is my business.

The world is my office.

–Scott Edward Anderson