Coffee For Poetry
I didn't question my love for coffee. An irreplaceable beverage I’d thought many times. Especially after quitting the booze- at one time, a drink that substituted nothing, I remembered, shuddering. Nowadays, coffee a better alternative, altogether. Most afternoons I lazed around my favourite coffee haunt, a place for the thinker and reader; the walls filled with pictures of famed poets, writers, musicians, mostly in black and white. Monochrome images always beautified the nostalgia of these famous folk from bygone eras, I thought. Even Sylvia Plath, someone whose poetry I detested. And I disliked all poetry, but did attempt to read it now and again. My buddy, Jim, a construction worker, who’d often spill words with me over an Americano or two, adored poetry, he’d told me many times.
‘I’m not one for the poetic,’ I said to him, a father of three, and a lover of everything from Dr Seuss to Shakespeare's sonnets.
‘So you keep saying, Mel,’ I replied.
We were sitting in the corner of of one of the rooms of ‘Coffee Ass.’ Mr Albert the proprietor, preferred to use ‘Ass,’instead of ‘House,’ in the title of his business, as he’d told me a long time ago, that it was something personal to him. He had a fondness for pronouncing the name of his thriving café in harsh cockney. He said it tickled him. It tickled me, too. In fact it amused a lot of patrons, who’d ultimately be inspired to speak in a cockney accent when ordering their coffee. Eventually, this had become the norm for the regulars, and a great source of entertainment, especially new faces, who’d look on with baffled smiles, as cockney accents, especially during the late morning rush, would be flying left, right, and centre. ‘Coffee Ass,’ based in Liverpool, a location, causing a clash in dialects, made it an even greater feature for the humble customer.
‘So, Jim,’ I’d continued. ‘You’d really be lost without poetry, wouldn't you?’
‘Certainly would, pal,’ he responded, sipping the dregs from his cup.
‘What if you no longer were able to read poetry? What if for example, reading poetry became illegal?’ A charcoal drawing of the Bard looked down on us, the artist had included a cigarette which the world famous writer held daintily between thumb and forefinger. I could never decide if this was offensive, or simply, an endearing addition.
‘I’d be well pissed off, mate’ he returned, getting up.
‘Another coffee?’ he asked.
‘Colombian filter please, Jim’
While he was gone I looked at the waitress, Mandy, admiring her curves, cuddled by her tight yellow frock. I wondered if she was okay, as she was always so quiet. Unusually quiet, especially for someone whose work connected them to the general public. I struggled to recall a time recently that I’d had a conversation with her. It was likely she had burdens, I thought.
‘You okay today, Mandy?’ I asked as she cleared napkins, and a couple of empty glasses from our table.
‘Yeah, Mel, not too bad,’ she replied, a hint of a smile forming, creating lovely dimples in her cheeks. Then she was gone. I considered my wicked way with her, and I thought I could impress her by showing her the final draft of my novel. I smiled to himself, a brief wave of pleasure overcame me, then Jim returned with the coffees.
‘It's like cheese and crackers, isn’t it, Pal,’ he said after taking his seat, emptying paper sachets of demerara sugar in to his coffee.
‘What is,’ I asked, my eyes looking in the direction of Mandy, who was chatting to Mr Albert about something.
‘Poetry, and coffee, pal’ he replied. His broad Glaswegian accent, annoyed me, not something I’d tell him, of course. Jim was one of the folks who didn’t take part in the cockney speech game. I didn’t blame him. Even if he did, I doubt he’d make a good job of speaking in that dialect.
‘I suppose it is, well for you, perhaps.’
‘No perhaps about it,’ he said. ‘They go hand in hand, pal. Reading poetry or writing poetry. If I don't have a coffee to prop me up, then it just isn’t the same.’
‘I see,’ I said, taking a long slurp and savouring my favourite blend- sharp, bitter, slightly smoky.
‘I find this with writing stories, and reading them too,’ I said. ‘But I wouldn't consider it essential. I mean, I can easily drink tea, fruit juice, even water. Coffee for relaxing like right now, for instance, and to start the day, but that's about it.’
‘See that's where we differ, Mel.’ I was surprised to hear him use my name instead of using ‘pal.’
‘You have commercial success now, and are an accomplished writer. Me? I’m just this part timer, that fills in between work. But I simply got to have the fuckin’ coffee.’
‘I hear you,’ I said, more interested in looking at Mandy who was still chatting with Mr Albert. Their conversation appeared to have become heated.
‘It’s like bacon without the eggs, or a holiday in the Bahamas without any sun. It's that simple, pal. Sipping coffee and reading poetry, merge together like sand and sea. Writing it becomes less arduous when sipping a favourite blend- they mingle, and flirt together. There is a harmony I find irresistible with this beverage. They compliment one another, the taste of good verse does harmonise with that of good coffee. The struggles in writing satisfactory verse, are, for me improved with the injection of a steady flow of coffee.’
I was quite surprised at the seriousness of Jim’s theory. It made sense, to a certain extent; my own writing perked up, especially with the re write, if I was gorging on a big mug of brew. But, I couldn't help thinking, Jim was exaggerating. This irritated me, as much as his Scottish accent, and his insistence on referring to me as ‘Pal’. Sometimes I did consider that Jim was perhaps lying about things. Last week I’d seen his wife in here. She’d been sitting alone for some time. Eventually, a man joined her, and after a few minutes, I’d noticed that their body language and facial expressions suggested more than just a friendly chat. As Jim never has a bad word to say about her, I concluded that he was putting on some kind of façade. His appearance wasn’t as bright these days either; grey had formed around the sides, his cheeks hollowed, and something in his smile didn’t quite ring true. Jim was only 43.
‘Why do you keep looking at that girl,’ Jim suddenly asked, shifting the subject. My eyes had been glancing towards Mandy again, her conversation with Mr Albert persisting.
‘I think I have the hots for her, Jim.’ I replied, smiling.
‘Your old enough to be her father, Pal,’ he piped, lifting his mug to his mouth.
Can't help it, Jim,’ I said, still grinning. ‘Jim, women and men, regardless of colour, age or creed shouldn’t matter, should it? Isn’t it like poetry and coffee. You've made several comparisons about it yourself today.’
‘Absolutely, Pal. But there is strong coffee and weak coffee. There is bad coffee and good coffee. There is instant coffee, and freshly percolated coffee. Do you see what I’m getting at?’
‘Strong men and weak women mix, don't they, Jim,’ I responded, smirking.
‘Perhaps they do, but strong instant men, don't really, or shouldn't mix with good percolated women,’
I laughed, at this, and although I found some kind of acceptance in this ridiculous correlation, I thought Jim was going over the top. I spotted a new addition to the artwork on the walls. In fine scribe, it was a quote from Robert Burns. At the foot of this piece of prose was a drawing of a steaming cup of coffee which related appropriately to the accompanying words. I thought it was a bit too PC for the kind of café we were in.
‘What a load of bollocks,’ I said still laughing. ‘Hey, she may be old enough to be my father, but there is such a thing as old classic blend, and new improved, isn’t there?
‘Oh piss off, pal,’ he replied, forcing back a grin. It was good to see this. I wanted to address the circumstances with his wife, but decided to let it slide, and wait. Although we weren’t close, Jim and me, and as irritating a person he was at times, I didn’t like to see any man being cheated on.
‘Well, I’d better get back to the wife.’ Said Jim. He rose from his chair. As I took in the pictures covering the walls; Simon and Garfunkel, Wordsworth, Blake, Keats, Dylan Thomas, and Bob Dylan, amongst many others, I decided I’d hang about for a bit.
Perhaps I’lol try to have a look at some verse, get my head round it, I thought. I still had a little time on my hands, and after all I was getting a little concerned about the, what now seemed, an altercation between Mr Albert, and Mandy.
‘She wants to discuss divorce proceedings,’
‘You what?’ I said, turning back to him, hearing enough despite the distraction to know what he was on about.
‘She’s leaving me, Mel’ he said, putting his coat on. ‘The fucking bitch been cheating on me for two years. Gotta go, pal. See you later.’
Just like that my curiosity had been answered. He was on his way out before I had a chance to respond. Then, immediately, I became angry with myself; we were barely friends, so what right did I have to judge him for the way he spoke? Because that is what I’d been doing. Yes, the accent irritated me, but I was allowing myself to ascertain, even conclude on the level of his moral fibre based on his accent. Maybe he did adore his poetry with coffee? He certainly had adored his wife. What did I know? Not much, was what I concluded. I decided to leave, not to bother with concerns over Mandy and Mr Albert.
On my way home I picked up a copy of popular 20th century poetry. I decided to give it a bash. My wife made me some coffee to drink while I slowly paged through the paperback.
Later that evening she said that my final draft was brilliant, and we made love before sleep.
I didn’t feel I deserved the love of a good woman because of my thinking. I did enjoy the poetry though, and this surprised me. But, I didn’t like the coffee. My wife makes dreadful coffee, but I do love my wife. And lusting over young Mandy earlier on? Hey, men and women. Just like coffee and poetry, right?
Come, sit, she said. I did, fingers laced around my cappuccino,
tonsured cocoa fizzing in the foam. Expectantly, I watched her
open a tattered satchel, retrieve a sheaf of worn lined pages,
breathing in, out, inhaling the sweet warmth of her café latte.
I gazed at her, elfin frame and dreadlocked auburn hair, a
matted, discordant beauty pulsing from beneath lowered
lashes, the faint but unmistakeable scent of homelessness,
clinging like betrayal in the soft folds of her freckled face.
In silence, I gazed, drinking her in because, of course, parched
I craved her. As she read, fingers unconsciously tracing poetry
through her unwashed hair, she ebbed like steam, shoulders
drooping, melodic words spilling forth, soaking the table, me.
This was her gift, her words, though she believed that I
was giving value, a couple of pounds here and there to
buy her warmth and company, and yet, her writing filled a
void that conversation never could, and satisfied a need.
Altruism, I used to think, and yet that secret gnaw of shame
understands that coffee, for poetry, is a rape of minds, a
stealing when one should simply ask, and perhaps receive.
Blood for water, gold for dust, the taking of a hungry soul.
Forgive me, Helen, broken damaged soul with ready
words, the deep melodic cracked with nicotine, angry
quiet tracks scored across each vein. Please, forgive me
for what I took, as surely I was starving too, inside?
For me, your words were soul sustenance, a dark slow
swirl of sugar in a bitter cup, stripped bare and open,
for you were grateful, even as you shed your layers of
skin through words to me, yielding to a literary thief.
We stand, fixed, unmovable,
facing down our fears
and the fury of how you chased us
through all the years.
I move only to refill my coffee cup
and listen for a distant melody
rising from another hill.
Or is it my heart
in that other time?
There is the chasm still,
and neither of us can fill it for you.
Or build the bridge by ourselves.
We love you, you know,
this mountain and me.
All is forgiven now.
One day there will be a way
and I will fly straightaway
through this deeply valley.
Without hesitation, I will rise to meet you
and sing again on our mountain
and trade my coffee for poetry.