Saturday, November 18, 2017

Coffee (November 10, 2017)

My Uncle’s Favorite Coffee Shop

Serum of steam rising from the cup,
what comfort to be known personally by Barbara,
her perfect pouring hand and starched ascot,
known as the two easy eggs and the single pancake,
without saying.
What pleasure for an immigrant—
anything without saying.

My uncle slid into his booth.
I cannot tell you—how I love this place.
He drained the water glass, noisily clinking his ice.
My uncle hailed from an iceless region.
He had definite ideas about water drinking.
I cannot tell you—all the time. But then he’d try.

My uncle wore a white shirt every day of his life.
He raised his hand against the roaring ocean
and the television full of lies.
He shook his head back and forth
from one country to the other
and his ticket grew longer.
Immigrants had double and nothing all at once.
Immigrants drove the taxis, sold the beer and Cokes.
When he found one note that rang true,
he sang it over and over inside.
Coffee, honey.
His eyes roamed the couples at other booths,
their loose banter and casual clothes.
But he never became them.

Uncle who finally left in a bravado moment
after 23 years, to live in the old country forever,
to stay and never come back,
maybe it would be peaceful now,
maybe for one minute,
I cannot tell you—how my heart has settled at last.
But he followed us to the sidewalk
saying, Take care, Take care,
as if he could not stand to leave us.

I cannot tell—

how we felt
to learn that the week he arrived,
he died. Or how it is now,
driving his parched streets,
feeling the booth beneath us as we order,
oh, anything, because if we don’t,
nothing will come.

Naomi Shihab Nye, “My Uncle’s Favorite Coffee Shop” from Fuel.

[Over a Cup of Coffee]


Over a cup of coffee or sitting on a park bench or 
walking the dog, he would recall some incident 
from his youth—nothing significant—climbing a tree 
in his backyard, waiting in left field for a batter's 
swing, sitting in a parked car with a girl whose face 
he no longer remembered, his hand on her breast 
and his body electric; memories to look at with 
curiosity, the harmless behavior of a stranger, with 
nothing to regret or elicit particular joy. And 
although he had no sense of being on a journey, 
such memories made him realize how far he had 
traveled, which, in turn, made him ask how he 
would look back on the person he was now, this 
person who seemed so substantial. These images, it 
was like looking at a book of old photographs, 
recognizing a forehead, the narrow chin, and 
perhaps recalling the story of an older second 
cousin, how he had left long ago to try his luck in 
Argentina or Australia. And he saw that he was 
becoming like such a person, that the day might 
arrive when he would look back on his present self 
as on a distant relative who had drifted off into 
uncharted lands.

Coffee Lips

The guest who came in to the street people’s suppers last night,
An elderly man with a lost smart little boy’s face and a look

As if he might turn against you anytime soon,
As if he’d just come into this world and he was extremely

Wary about what the world was going to be, and he said,
“If I ask you a question will you give me a truthful answer?”

And I said, “That depends on what the question is,”
Thinking the little elderly boy looked sophisticated and

As if he’d in fact been a long time in the world
And would get the tone right, and maybe he did, or maybe he didn’t;

At any rate he went on to ask the question,
“When I come into places like this and there are people holding

Coffee cups to their lips and they look at me,
Are they about to drink the coffee or not to drink the coffee?”

He was balancing the world on the tip of his witty unknowing nose.
I felt like I was falling down someplace else than anywhere there.

ode to coffee

(after Juan Luis Guerra)

from Africa to a Caribbean hill
de África a las lomas del Caribe
to the smiling ruin of our cities
a la feliz ruina de ciudades
anoint the neural vessels we refill
al matorral neural en donde vive
until your acid muse drowns our pities
tu agria musa que ahoga soledades
return us to our tribe that grew dark beans
devuélvenos al semillero isleño
cut through the grease of our late-night omelets
metaboliza la grasa nocturna
and warm this empty diner by the club
trae tu calor a nuestro desvelo
where luckless lovers stare at tiny screens
haz que el amante no muera de sueño
and poets brew old socks into psalmlets
tu borra es poema que embadurna
while dreaming it rains coffee from above.
y sombría tu alegría de cielo.

By Richard Brautigan

Sometimes life is merely a matter of coffee and whatever intimacy a cup of coffee
affords. I once read something about coffee. The thing said that coffee is good for you;
it stimulates all the organs.
I thought at first this was a strange way to put it, and not altogether pleasant, but
as time goes by I have found out that it makes sense in its own limited way. I'll tell you
what I mean.
Yesterday morning I went over to see a girl. I like her. Whatever we had going for us
is gone now. She does not care for me. I blew it and wish I hadn't.
I rang the door bell and waited on the stairs. I could hear her moving around upstairs.
The way she moved I could tell that she was getting up. I had awakened her.
Then she came down the stairs. I could feel her approach in my stomach. Every step she
took stirred my feelings and lead indirectly to her opening the door. She saw me and it
did not please her.
Once upon a time it pleased her very much, last week. I wonder where it went,
pretending to be naive.
"I feel strange now," she said. "I don't want to talk."
"I want a cup of coffee," I said, because it was the last thing in the world
that I wanted. I said it in such a way that it sounded as if I were reading her a telegram
from somebody else, a person who really wanted a cup of coffee, who cared about nothing
"All right," she said.
I followed her up the stairs. It was ridiculous. She had just put some clothes on. They
had not quite adjusted themselves to her body. I could tell you about her ass. We went
into the kitchen.
She took a jar of instant coffee off the shelf and put it on the table. She placed a
cup next to it, and a spoon. I looked at them. She put a pan full of water on the stove
and turned the gas on under it.
All this time she did not say a word. Her clothes adjusted themselves to her body. I
won't. She left the kitchen.
Then she went down the stairs and outside to see if she had any mail. I didn't remember
seeing any. She came back up the stairs and went into another room. She closed the door
after her. I looked at the pan full of water on the stove.
I knew that it would take a year before the water started to boil. It was now October
and there was too much water in the pan. That was the problem. I threw half of the water
into the sink.
The water would boil faster now. It would take only six months. The house was quiet.
I looked out the back porch. There were sacks of garbage there. I stared at the garbage
and tried to figure out what she had been eating lately by studying the containers and
peelings and stuff. I couldn't tell a thing.
It was now March. The water started to boil. I was pleased by this.
I looked at the table. There was the jar of instant coffee, the empty cup and the spoon
all laid out like a funeral service. These are the things that you need to make a cup of
When I left the house ten minutes later, the cup of coffee safely inside me like a
grave, I said, "Thank you for the cup of coffee."
"You're welcome," she said. Her voice came from behind a closed door. Her
voice sounded like another telegram. It was really time for me to leave.
I spent the rest of the day not making coffee. It was a comfort. And evening came, I
had dinner in a restaurant and went to a bar. I had some drinks and talked to some people.
We were bar people and said bar things. None of them remembered, and the bar closed. It
was two o'clock in the morning. I had to go outside. It was foggy and cold in San
Francisco. I wondered about the fog and felt very human and exposed.
I decided to go visit another girl. We had not been friends for over a year. Once we
were very close. I wondered what she was thinking about now.
I went to her house. She didn't have a door bell. That was a small victory. One must
keep track of all the small victories. I do, anyway.
She answered the door. She was holding a robe in front of her. She didn't believe that
she was seeing me. "What do you want?" she said, believing now that she was
seeing me. I walked right into the house.
She turned and closed the door in such a way that I could see her profile. She had not
bothered to wrap the robe completely around herself. She was just holding the robe in
front of herself.
I could see an unbroken line of body running from her head to her feet. It looked kind
of strange. Perhaps because it was so late at night.
"What do you want?" she said.
"I want a cup of coffee," I said. What a funny thing to say, to say again for
a cup of coffee was not what I really wanted.
She looked at me and wheeled slightly on the profile. She was not pleased to see me.
Let the AMA tell us that time heals. I looked at the unbroken line of her body.
"Why don't you have a cup of coffee with me?" I said. "I feel like
talking to you. We haven't talked for a long time."
She looked at me and wheeled slightly on the profile. I stared at the unbroken line of
her body. This was not good.
"It's too late," she said. "I have to get up in the morning. If you want
a cup of coffee, there's instant in the kitchen. I have to go to bed."
The kitchen light was on. I looked down the hall into the kitchen. I didn't feel like
going into the kitchen and having another cup of coffee by myself. I didn't feel like
going to anybody else's house and asking them for a cup of coffee.
I realized that the day had been committed to a very strange pilgrimage, and I had not
planned it that way. At least the jar of instant coffee was not on the table, beside an
empty white cup and a spoon.
They say in the spring a young man's fancy turns to thoughts of love. Perhaps if he has
enough time left over, his fancy can even make room for a cup of coffee.
-from Revenge of the Lawn

Thanksgiving (November 17, 2017)

Family Reunion
By Maxine W. Kumin b. 1925 

The week in August you come home, 
adult, professional, aloof, 
we roast and carve the fatted calf 
—in our case home-grown pig, the chine 
garlicked and crisped, the applesauce 
hand-pressed. Hand-pressed the greengage wine. 

Nothing is cost-effective here. 
The peas, the beets, the lettuces 
hand sown, are raised to stand apart. 
The electric fence ticks like the slow heart 
of something we fed and bedded for a year, 
then killed with kindness’s one bullet 
and paid Jake Mott to do the butchering. 

In winter we lure the birds with suet, 
thaw lungs and kidneys for the cat. 
Darlings, it’s all a circle from the ring 
of wire that keeps the raccoons from the corn 
to the gouged pine table that we lounge around, 
distressed before any of you was born. 

Benign and dozy from our gluttonies, 
the candles down to stubs, defenses down, 
love leaking out unguarded the way 
juice dribbles from the fence when grounded 
by grass stalks or a forgotten hoe, 
how eloquent, how beautiful you seem! 

Wearing our gestures, how wise you grow, 
ballooning to overfill our space, 
the almost-parents of your parents now. 
So briefly having you back to measure us 
is harder than having let you go.

Perhaps the World Ends Here
By Joy Harjo b. 1951

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live. 

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on. 

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it. 

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women. 

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers. 

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table. 

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun. 

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory. 

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here. 

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks. 

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

To Autumn
By John Keats

SEASON of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
  Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
  With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
  And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
    To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
  And still more, later flowers for the bees,
  Until they think warm days will never cease,
    For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
  Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
  Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
  Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
    Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
  Steady thy laden head across a brook;
  Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
    Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
  Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
  And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
  Among the river sallows, borne aloft
    Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
  Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
  The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
    And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Thanks for the Italian chestnuts—with their
tough shells—the smooth chocolaty
skin of them—thanks for the boiling water—

itself a miracle and a mystery—
thanks for the seasoned sauce pan
and the old wooden spoon—and all

the neglected instruments in the drawer—
the garlic crusher—the bent paring knife—
the apple slicer that creates six

perfect wedges out of the crisp Haralson—
thanks for the humming radio—thanks
for the program on the radio

about the guy who was a cross-dresser—
but his wife forgave him—and he
ended up almost dying from leukemia—

(and you could tell his wife loved him
entirely—it was in her deliberate voice)—
thanks for the brined turkey—

the size of a big baby—thanks—
for the departed head of the turkey—
the present neck—the giblets

(whatever they are)—wrapped up as
small gifts inside the cavern of the ribs—
thanks—thanks—thanks—for the candles

lit on the table—the dried twigs—
the autumn leaves in the blue Chinese vase—
thanks—for the faces—our faces—in this low light.

Thanksgiving for Two
The adults we call our children will not be arriving
with their children in tow for Thanksgiving.
We must make our feast ourselves,

slice our half-ham, indulge, fill our plates,
potatoes and green beans
carried to our table near the window.

We are the feast, plenty of years,
arguments. I’m thinking the whole bundle of it
rolls out like a white tablecloth. We wanted

to be good company for one another.
Little did we know that first picnic
how this would go. Your hair was thick,

mine long and easy; we climbed a bluff
to look over a storybook plain. We chose
our spot as high as we could, to see

the river and the checkerboard fields.
What we didn’t see was this day, in
our pajamas if we want to,

wrinkled hands strong, wine
in juice glasses, toasting
whatever’s next,

the decades of side-by-side,
our great good luck.