I am writing at the neighborhood coffee shop
that’s changed hands about five times now
in as many years. Joe owned it last
and the new owners have kept his quaint coffee names:
Cup of Joe. Jittery Joe. Regular Ole Joe. The original name
was Sacred Grounds, so here and there a cross still hangs,
a wooden saint grins, and the neighborhood
is changing too—green hair and safety pinned clothes
giving way to families like the woman here now
with her small son, plaid bag slung over her shoulder.
A roach crawls across the desk where I write, slips
into the drawer’s crevice, back to his family, I suppose,
to the babies his wife just hatched, the teenagers he doesn’t understand,
and the elders, slower and wiser, who sit in the desk’s darkness
telling tales about how things were before Joe, before
Sacred Grounds, even, these griots who remember the family tree—
who died beneath the sole of which shoe, who was carted away,
unsuspecting, inside an old stuffed chair, never to return.
I sit, expecting his little legs to drop onto my thigh
at any time. I’ll bet he’s in there now weighing danger
against the thrill of surprise, wondering if the story is worth
risking his life for. Perhaps he is lamenting the way things were,
when bravado was respected, back before coffee sippers
threatened his life, back when the adventure stories were still true.