I Explain to the Guy
at Counter Eleven
in the greasy blue jumpsuit
in the sour breath of morning,
when bodies ache to be back in bed sheets,
that we don’t have orange marmalade.
We used to, but stopped carrying it, I explain,
after swinging open the stainless steel door to check.
It’s a yes or no question, he scoffs, and I lean in
so that my hair swings across the yellow gooey pond
of his Eggs Benedict.
I’m not a yes or no kind of gal, I say,
and before I can reach the other counter,
he grunts, Typical woman. I become
a quivering body filled with the weight
of women put in their place: my mother, told by her father,
Tape your mouth shut.
I hang an order with a shaky hand
as customers shuffle in,
and the diner fills like a platter at a cheap buffet.
Jan, in his two-decade-old purple jacket
pushes his empty mug to the corner of the table
for the sixth time today.
For 32 years my dad, worn-out short order cook,
never missed a day that creaky door opened.
He would say to my complaints The customer’s always right
so that the comebacks I needed to utter
burnt in my mouth like the toast in the ancient toaster
Dad refused to replace.
I return to the man in the greasy blue jumpsuit
who’s smearing profanities on my countertop
with his filthy elbows. I ask if he’s set with the coffee,
or if he wants one more for the road. He seems surprised I’m asking,
says, Yes. I look him straight in the eye as I pour,
stopping the flow with a quick flick of my wrist, so I send
some brown tears flying, I say
I hope that wasn’t too many words for you,
and I take his yellow-streaked plate and leave
the black crumpled napkins.
My Mother’s Mirror
Mom sits by her magnifying
makeup mirror, flips on its light
and opens the novel of her skin.
She writes: I didn’t go to the diner today—
couldn’t get out of bed. I’m no good lately.
I forget things and customers stare. I mix up words
and get slime around my mouth.
She traces each line with her finger,
stretches her skin to erase them. Dad whispers
Your mother stares at that damn mirror for hours.
It would make anyone look ugly.
We watch Mom’s finger drag
across her face then scrape
a splotch with her fingernails.
Every pore, wrinkle, chin hair
is a child, naked and weeping
in the spotlight.
Mom, Mom, you’re beautiful
but her ears refuse to hear
and my words turn to tears,
something to touch
the way years become wrinkles
and my mother buries her face
in the hands that raised me.
Confession to a Homeless Man
I saw you in Bogotá; grey hair,
beard snarled as sin, no shoes
sitting against a mural, munching
on bread and smiling, like it was
a ceremony of crumbs.
Maybe it was my peach dress on a glum evening,
but you lit up like you expected magic,
so let’s twirl down screeching smelly streets
until the graffiti art comes alive;
watch the painted blue morpho
wake the lady with stars dangling from her hair.
What part of this living is real?
Instead of offering a peso or penny
of a smile, I turned away
to shut out the spirit of you
and dodge your stories of hunger,
sure you’d ask for money
and I had to get to that padded chair on time
to advance the elusive CEO’s English
with 45 minutes left during rush hour
of maneuvering around slow walkers who look at me
as though I just barged into their homes.
You had a look of wild apricots
in a room full of lilacs,
and I placed you right back on filthy cement
and squashed your pleasures with my polished shoe.
You owned nothing pretty like apricots.
Truth is, I tried to forget you,
past the woman sweeping the bridge,
pleading, with her eyes, for moneda
past the man shouting mazorca like an anthem,
his corn like yellow flags.
All I could think of was you—you
with your bread looking perfectly
at peace like you’d discovered
the finest food on Earth.
And your look of wild apricots.
Thunderstorms at Old Crow
It’s 1:39 and I’m at that Old Crow again.
You know, the Black Crow in Old Northeast? Can’t be beat.
There’s this Motown woman singin’ like an Osprey on the stereo
and there’s this warm, reddish-yellow light
flying around the room like a butterfly trapped inside–
rain’s pouring outside somethin’ fierce
sounds like a waterpark out there
rain drops as long as spaghetti noodles flying down on cars
like spillin’ pasta in a pot of boilin’ water
Old man Osa singin’ to the next song
raspy voice of his,
dusty vocal chords keepin’ up,
he looks up every now and again, watchin’ that rain
old hound dog howling something soulful on this warm Florida afternoon
hot steam burps in the air
someone washin’ dishes, water sprays in the coffee makers hair
you know that old trumpet makes it around here sometimes
it befriends the chatter of coffee-goers and talks em up
metallic, brassy, a little sassy.
I wouldn’t get too close
it’s got a tendency of spittin’ while it talks.
Coffee-makers doin’ their thang
Graceful ladies makin’ sweets to the lo-fi beats
Woman from Blestian smiles when she sits on those big wooden desks
just looking out at the rain
white shirt, denim skirt
she’s says somethin’ inaudible and smiles again
we’re all out here just doin’ our best
Caramel macchiato lady
wearing a knitted sweater that’d make a sunflower angry
she stands there behind the coffee bar
twirling her brunette hair curled up like pasta
hoop earrings hang down shining gold,
whispering secrets in her ears
this place is beyond its years, glowing the grace of something old
Green Mile Style
High flying earthworms
stink bug pachyderms
two skunks playing hop scotch on rotten gums cuz your mouth’s fulla rancid germs
Saltwater onions got
a baby cactus crying
from walking too long now its feet got bunions
Three creeps eating crepes
tripping on women cuz no one taught em how to roller skate…
two trees holdin’ hands walking side by side
swapping leaves and receiving cold glances from lonely bushes
jealous of blooming romances.
Shock top pop and lock
young folks around town so coo’.
They like 19th century rich guys hockin’
from long forgotten ancestors richer than devil’s food.
Two birds on a stoop
makin’ whoopee, playin’ hooky
while a big man escorts a tiny dog takin’ a shaky poop
to the Royal Pond of Frogs
A curious fish,
I find myself in the high court of a royal frog’s pond.
Giant pillars of white marble ’round the conservatory
A floor so shiny and pale you’d think it was milk varnished with honey
Hungry and shy, I find a noble frog nearby,
swimming with others holding fanciful feasts of flies!
Dragonflies as fast as jets,
house flies frogs kept as pets,
saddles for horseflies
Butterflies on toast with jam
sandflies with turkey and ham
eating fruit flies because vegetable flies are ghastly
Blow flies that’ll well…blow ya
Crane flies delicate and respected
balloon flies that’ll make ya bloated
black flies that’re strong and sensitive
humpbacked flies big as bikes
We ate and ate till our stomachs burst,
good friends to be had in the pond of frogs;
feasting and swimming.
But ah! We can’t forget the tastiest of flies, Timeflies!
They skip and hop and buzz and hum
they tick and flick and spin all around like they’re drunk
they’re impossible to catch
But what could be better, than the taste of time?
So we take it slow,
we slow dance,
and we’ll catch those tricky flies,
we’ll catch ’em.
Denzel hosts a
Sunday Poetry Circle
at Black Crow Coffee in St. Pete