All the Best Poets Sit in the Smoking Section:01



Anandi’s ‘Tainted Love’ plays.

Opening credits roll.

A 1989 FORD FIESTA pulls out of the parking lot of RASCAL’S NIGHTCLUB and follows the streets through Northeast Portland to PANCAKE HUT.  

I don’t know how to feel.  I mean, I have feelings.  I am not a heartless beast.  But what I mean is there are just too many conflicting feelings to choose from tonight.  John and I are heading to Pancake Hut from Rascals nightclub.  Rascals doesn’t know if it wants to be a dance club or a dive bar.  I don’t know the difference.  See, I don’t drink much; don’t smoke at all.  Tonight I had my girlfriend Julie with me.  Strike that.  I guess she’s my ex-girlfriend now.  John and I were talking sports.  Next thing ya know, Julie is gone.  It really seemed to happen that fast.  

JOHN’S FORD FIESTA pulls into the Pancake Hut parking lot.

So Pancake Hut is an Oregon landmark, with three restaurants in Portland, one in St. Johns, and a couple in Boring and Milwaukie.  The staff dresses in short brown bell skirts and tight white blouses… unless you happen to work during the day, where your gender allows you the freedom to wear Autumn Dockers and a white dress shirt.
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"Eyes of Darkness"

by Jeph Johnson

from the darkness 

of clouded perception
I look up at her eyes
standing there
a few tables away,
taking an order
she has no idea what they do
but they are open wide
to colors,
shapes and shades
that paint beauty in the world
she has no idea what they do
still they work too well,
a bit too precise
for I am seen accurately
she has no idea what they do
I wish she'd use her imagination
to dream the dreams I dream for them
worshipped by my prayers,
opening slow at daybreak
safely in my gaze
dark fluttering ravens
wave goodbye
at sunset

Author's Notes/Comments: 

for Sarah, circa 1999 

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by Jeph Johnson


I'm waiting in this booth til dawn
Watching her love her children
By the way she's keeping on...


Pancakes, ham and eggs aren't why I'm drawn
I'm watching her love her children
By the way she's keeping on...


She sweats while they sleep at home with their Grandma
I'm watching her love her children
By the way she's keeping on...


Dishes break, customers keep their tips to a minimum
I'm watching her love her children
By the way she's keeping on...


I really can't believe
She has a smile for me
After a ten-hour shift
Of truckers, slackers
And nacho-chip snackers;
I'm just here to give her a lift...


I'm amazed and astonished that she's still admonished
I wish that the whole world could go
To IHOP, 2 AM and wait in a booth until dawn
And notice her loving her children
By the way she keeps keeping on...

Author's Notes/Comments: 


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"Just Before Sharon Sleeps"

by Jeph Johnson


      How do I invest
interest I've compiled,
      Favoring moments
underneath your smile?
      By choosing occasions
that savor your content;
      Temperate and solemn,
Without guilt or regret.
      A resounding symphony
rides the distance in your eyes.
      It orchestrates the morning
by exceeding the sunrise.
      While silently your efforts
begin to harmonize.
      The resolute dawning
you parallel soon dies.

Author's Notes/Comments: 

circa 1999 

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"Twenty Dollars"

by Jeph Johnson


It bothers me
(not out of selfishness)
when a visibly intoxicated man
is handed a twenty-dollar bill
at a restaurant
late at night
by a Christian College couple
studying hard the bible
while the hard-working waiter
(who almost has
his tip money stolen
by said drunk man)
gets two for a tip
(by said Christian College couple)
and they also
leave a tract
leading the way
for if it were out of selfishness
I would have wanted
the waitress to get it

Author's Notes/Comments: 


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"Genesee Street"

by Jeph Johnson


I hurried to my mailbox
for my mom had paid the fare
704 N.E. 99th, opened it up,
and they were there!
plane tickets south from drizzle town
where mom and sis had moved,
Jen was searchin' for the big time,
Mom was listenin' to blues.
So off to California
on a big ol' jet airplane
There were just too many people
and too many things to see
I rode around this mammoth town
with my sister and her spouse
It took us three whole hours
just to get to their house
We took our travels up and down
the famous Hollywood Boulevard
Lights and cameras flashed at me
like I was some movie star
But we were only buying time
'til we could be on our way
Towards the hot dry desert winds
of Palm Springs the next day
But at night close to the building
where CBS broadcasts TV
I noticed we had passed a sign-
a street called "Genesee"
Now back home in Poetland Oregon,
I had only known this name
As a pin on a beautiful waitress-
Her main claim to fame 

So we hurried back the next morning
with a camera to shoot
Pictures of the "Genesee" sign,
because I thought it would be cute
To get a picture of me smiling there
right next to her sign
Waving in the Hollywood sun
at "Genesee and Vine"
So I took the film and shot exposures
one to thirty-six
Threw the camera in my suitcase
and forgot all about the pics
California ended
we taxied in to PDX
Disembarked heading to Dennys,
one of my common treks
I looked for her to take my order
but she had up and gone
Headed north, right past Vancouver
to a different restaurant
Now my cousin mentioned later
that Seattle also had
A park called Genesee
she had noticed in a cab
So I wonder why other cities
are so generously blessed
With streets and parks wonderfully named
when Poetland's been her nest?
So now that she has left me,
heading North in her retreat
I propose renaming 99th
"Genesee Street"

Author's Notes/Comments: 


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"Genesee in the Rain"

by Jeph Johnson


still unknown.

ventures out, alone

pulls back her long red hair

graceful, elegent and aware


I sit haggard in this booth and write

this dismal dark midwinter night

songs I've longed to sing,

and dream

that dream

I've longed to dream:



with me.


after awhile,

she asks me

"How've you been?"

feigning a whimsical smile


This is indeed



Mere months ago

this little girl

her dreams poised

in the fashion world

on the runway,

in the sunshine



she wipes my

dirty tabletop down,

at this late night grill

on the wrong side of town.


Drifting between the chairs

with her head held high in the air

modeling her bell skirt uniform,

while on rages the storm

of Genesee

in the rain


Night after night, over and over again

she asks "How've you been?"

and that smile still hides our pain




in the rain

Author's Notes/Comments: 

for Genesee, 2001, 2017 


"Genesee in the Rain (2001 version)

by Jeph Johnson


In the darkness of
a winter's night
I sit here
in this booth and write
a song I long to sing,
and dream a dream
I've longed to dream
of Genesee and me.

With elegence and care
she pulls back her long red hair
and ventures out alone
into the dark unknown.

Over and over again
I ask, "How have you been?"
And her smile soothes all my pain
Genesee in the rain.

Dreaming since she was a little girl
in front of the lense
in a supermodel's world
...instead she's wiping table's down,
in this late night grill
as I write this song.

Moving around
the tables and chairs
with her head held high
up in the air
modelling a Denny's uniform,
while outside it continues to storm...

Over and over again
She asks how have I been
And her smile hides all her pain
Genesee in the rain.




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by Jeph Johnson


(At Denny's)
Quarter to four, self-absorbed
All alone and longing for...
(Someone unknown now mops the floor)
To mop up the mess you left
Stop or destroy this loneliness
With thesaurus, book of rhymes.
And a dictionary to define
What it is, I have no clues at all
Except this memory (this coffee drink)
Of your bitter company, I think
And how it ended with you standing tall

Author's Notes/Comments: 

circa 2000 

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"Kayla, Sweet & Gentle"

by Jeph Johnson


She stares through my cares
Deep into the night


Looking past the eyes
Of the one who'd hold her tight


And with her sleepy smile
She tells me it's alright


Kayla, sweet and gentle
Kayla smiles good night


She dreams quite extreme
Dreams that never stop


Looking in the lights
Of a convertible hard-top


And with her sleepy smile
She brings me another pop


Kayla, sweet and gentle
Her kindness never stops


She hides it inside
Her disguise of uniform


Waitressing her way
Until her life transforms


And with her sleepy smile
She keeps my coffee warm


Kayla, sweet and gentle
Kayla smiles good morn'

Author's Notes/Comments: 

for Kayla, circa 2000 

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