Poem | Brian Gilmore | alfred’s steakhouse 1953, u street, washington d.c.

Now living in Michigan, Brian Gilmore restores the voice of his native city,in cadence and breath. He pulls memory forward in poems with characters, situation and plot—real people—in a flow of surreality –the movers of the day, the politics, the threat. In this poem he resurrects a time and place where prejudice and persecution walk the same block. Good people wanted to eat anywhere they chose. But could not. The poet records this, and Gilmore always gives poetry a good conscience. (Historical detail for you millennials: Roy Cohn was the shark-lawyer for Joseph McCarthy, who ruined artist’s lives in a witch hunt searching for Communists. And if you don’t know Thurgood Marshall, you’ll really break our hearts.)  -Grace Cavalieri


alfred’s steakhouse 1953, u street, washington d.c.

a mcdonalds is on the corner now. walk across & there is a starbucks, 
& up the street is a bank of america. & down the street was a rite aid
that is being torn down already. & back up the street is the place where
thurgoodmarshall used to get his hair trimmed. close like he was military 

& he’d have a scotch & soda after court & would have the barber
shop in stitches with his baltimore street tales that he strung together
like sevens in a game of craps. he would get a steak at alfred’s steakhouse
later & the next morning he would be back at it, trying to see if he could

make it so that anyone could eat where they wanted. & even though alfred
had the best steaks in the entire city, thurgood just really wanted to go to
the woolworth’s department store soda fountain or thompson’s restaurant
downtown & order a cheeseburger & a chocolate shake, loosen his tie, 

light up a smoke, inhale deep & smile. no one would even notice him either. 
the burger well done, the chocolate shake like great sex, almost as exhilarating
as the steaks at alfred’s that melted in mouths like ice in summer or butter on a
warm stove. served midtown where the big media scribes never came to review 

the grub. a world more secret than a fraternity handshake; though let this not be
about steaks; this is about burgers & shakes much better than the fastest stuff
tossed out today at mcdonald’s right there on the block once full of black folks
pushing packards. right across from the frank reeves building; frank, the lawyer, 

from montreal, who went to howard like thurgood, like charlie houston, patricia
roberts harris. & frank taught langston hughes how to limbo in ‘53, on capitol
hill, right in front of roy cohn & his vultures searching for reds like jelly beans
in easter baskets. roy cohn &  joey mac still don’tknow what they heard & saw that 

day.  he & joey went & had a good steak after langston read his poetry. downtown
where steaks didn’t melt like at alfred’s. they didn’t even notice all the black people around them dressed clean eating burgers & drinking chocolate shakes laughing like
they all just hit the street number. roy & joey were still too busy looking for reds.


Brian Gilmore is a public interest lawyer. Also a professor at Michigan State. He’s the author of three collections of poetry, including his latest, We Didn't Know Any Gangsters, (Cherry Castle Publishing LLC), a 2015 Hurston-Wright Legacy Award nominee.   A long time columnist with the Progressive Media Project, his basketball adoration blog is called, 'The Asphalt.'