In a Coffee Shop in the Plaza on Weed Street
Between mouthfuls of wheat bagel drowned in cream cheese
a small white bead perched in the stubble of aspiring moustache,
he told me about his drive home to the suburbs
for Christmas – he declared “You can’t write about this, Christmas
has become the farthest thing from ‘poetic.’” He went into particulars
of the drive: unseasonable warmth, sunlight, geese, snow or no snow,
bent fluorescent tubes and blinking bulbs patiently awaiting night.
For a while I was distracted by a man at the table by the bathroom,
busy with razorblades, nub pencil perched sentry-like near the crown
of his skull behind his ear. A spinning compass needle, blue gridded paper,
involved entirely with a solitary task. “… sickly interpretation of intent…”
In the corner near the door, a small child’s hand held by a mother,
speaking softly like old friends. A boy with a soft brimmed cap, three scarves
layered and contra-patterned, divided by the strap of a messenger’s pack
and a cup too large for his hands. He begins tapping two chapped fingers
to the beat of a tired song that everyone began to tap to. The magnificent swell
of a coffee shop tapping. We went on like this and cleaned our table and left.
Walking home, I noticed a set of couch cushions hidden behind a pillar
under the highway overpass. Wounded wreathes left in a vacant lot
where troop 19 had been selling trees. I recalled his story:
It was not until he left, 12:15am, once everyone had fallen to sleep
when he caught the eye of the tree, it being the only light of the room,
humming dutifully in what slight pine scent still lingered, unwrapped
boxes stacked among their own colorful rind. On the drive back
into the city, the earth seemed to rise and it rained and he began
to believe everything he’d heard, he began to worry that he had not
locked the door behind him – he told of the terrible images
he imagined, the plunder and murder, the lungfuls of smoke
that rose in his mind’s eye, as fire drank up everything inside –
how the owl and deer would freeze in its warmth. He said,
setting the last bite of bagel into the basket, that he cried
for a few miles. It was late, there were no other cars on the road
and he went home to an empty apartment, set his keys on the table
and cinched the mouth of the trash, which had begun to smell.
He had his hood up, avoided puddles, and when he lifted the dumpster lid
two rats sat up on their hind legs, looking up at him like their god
had just open the tin can of the sky to bathe them in the light
of the flickering streetlamp. He didn’t flinch, he said, he dropped
the sack of trash on top of them with a chirp and waft of sour air.
He heard a child crying in a garden apartment, then the hush of a mother.
The pepper trees were bare but supple, not yet brittle from cold, they reached
into the sky, he was certain, trying to peel back the clouds
at the aperture of star, the one star left in the growing manger of smog.