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I’d like to say it’s for the coffee, sure.
Greek stuff, the thick kind that collects
in the cup, leaves a bitter-toffee residue.
And theirs is pretty good, pretty strong.
But it’s the staff, in their thirties, dark.
I’ve studied the faces. Boy, are they slow.
Unbelievably slow! Takes four of them
to make mine a black. Quizzical looks.
The questions, hollered to each other.
The banter, every single time as I go.
The confusion over what it was I had
and what it cost and what they should
key into the till. Do they have a loyalty
card? They don’t know. It’d be unkind
to call them inefficient. They are gods
at pasture, in their groves. No hurry.
Just don’t tell them I said that, please,
cos I need their moussaka, the béchamel
(did they really make it themselves?),
washed down by a mug of mountain
tea and a pastry, flaky, oozing honey.
Stylish. Modern décor. They’ve thought
hard about the brand, carved out a cool
visual identity. That goat on the wall
is funny. Something from mythology
about eating well, harnessing nature.
Vain talk of sunshine, herbs, olive oil.
I guess they met reading Law at Kings,
or business management at the LSE,
one day had a hunch, went in together.
Not sure I’d really call them waiters.
They don’t qualify. More men who do
shifts and manage a machine. Leisurely.
And it’s working out, word of mouth.
Hope it thrives. Because they ignore me
as I read, write, keep busy in the corner.
Might be a whole afternoon, getting on
with something I shouldn’t. When I do
and I’m done and feel I deserve it, even
if it’s early, I wait till the blondish one
with delicious ears is on and make eye
contact, call him over, order his house
red. I’m a weekday regular yet he looks
surprised, confused even, as though he’s
never heard of the fermentation process.
Eventually he’s back with a bottle and
I watch him uncork it, take in the light
weave of hairs on his forearm, a delicacy
in the wrist as he pours me something
from his region, not too young, one to try.

Paul Stephenson took part in Tales from the World City run by David Tait (and the same time did the Transreading Spain course led by Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese). He recently published a pamphlet of poems entitled The Days that followed Paris (Happenstance, 2016), written in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks. His first pamphlet, Those People was a winner in the Poetry Business book and pamphlet competition, judged by Billy Collins (Smith/Doorstop, 2015).

“This poem is inspired by a wonderful café I used to go to in Bloomsbury. While living in London it became my office on weekday afternoons. When you work in a café you constantly feel you should be consuming, at least ordering something else besides a coffee to justify you being there for so long. I wrote the poem knowing that somebody else on the course would know exactly where I was talking about, so it gave the writing process an extra playful dimension. There may be a few embellishments ;-)”


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Image Credits:

Michael Allen Smith