When the man in the hat ordered a beer
from the high school barista at the coffee shop,
I politely declined the impulse
to stare;
in his funky, retro cowboy-hat
and single, dangling hoop earring
ordering a beer from the kid behind
the espresso machine
who giggled.

Poor kid.
I wondered which was redder:
the lad’s salty cheeks
or the man’s full-body unitard.

The man in the hat asked
a second time
for a beer:
“Warmed, if you have it,
like milk.”

From behind my library copy
of Kafka’s Essentials
I wondered if the young barista
ever drank warmed milk,
he being very much out of infant days.
I wondered if the man
had some thirst for nostalgia,
given the warmed milk reference.
Had his relationship with his mother
been complex? Oedipal? Freudian?
Hence the warm beer, like warm milk?

The woman to my left, reading the Times,
but without her eyes
seemed to wonder the same.

When the manager in crisp button-up
was summoned in panic by barista boy
to speak with the man in the hat,
it took a heavy four minutes
of rigorous eye contact
with the word authorities on page 97
before the man in the hat agreed loudly to leave.

It was the closing remark
of that buttoned-up manager,
as the man in the hat left the coffee shop,
that made me wonder the most of all.

As the door clanged shut
and the man rejoined the cold streets,
I heard Buttons whisper to Lad
“I’ll just warm up
some beer in the back,
want some?”


The reader brings his or her own experience to the poem. Here is mine:

3 Comments on “At the Coffee Shop One Afternoon

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