I remember all the mugs, the dirty filters, the spills, the empty cans, the stains. I remember the sound of his sip. The time he couldn’t find his mug so he used a beaker from the garage. The splotchy grinds mounded in the trashcan. I remember Mom complaining about how much money he spent on coffee. Him saying it was better than cigarettes. Mom pointing to the credit card bill. Him laughing and taking another sip. And another sip.
Every morning was spent in ritual dance with coffee paraphernalia. And every morning I watched as he scooped up piles of singed stardust with a little dipper spoon and artfully filtered its powers into a mug. He was not so much a man as he was an extension of the forbidden kitchen cupboard in which he stored his dark magic beans. I feared that cupboard.
On Saturday afternoons I would peep in on him in his reading chair and watch from a far away place as the coffee potion faded from his body and into the droning midday, recognizing that something about the time he spent in that chair hummed with a dim and secret melancholy known only to him—and perhaps to T.S. Eliot. Somehow, coffee made Dad lonesome. Coffee had taken him from me.
Even today, the smell of stale dark roast is constantly caught on his breath, forever hibernating in the depths of his winter sweaters. Maybe it’s in his blood now. Maybe it’s in mine. He’s my father after all.
I started drinking coffee the fall before I turned nineteen. I had come to believe that either I would learn to love coffee and it would love me in return, or surely it would haunt me until Kingdom come. It was a self-sentence into a lonesome life—condemnation that cast my own Saturday afternoons into speechless dialogue with dead writers and the Nobody of silent cafés. It was punishment for never understanding Dad and for failing to prove to him that I was a son worth knowing.
I learned to take it black, to swallow bitter swells. When November came that year with its late autumn sadness ready to rot my thin bones, I denied the Wisconsin cold with my newfound love. I raged against that which is mortal and that which is sad. I fought the world’s five o’clock descent into darkness with the fleeting warmth of a mug. I was two sips ahead of the snow. Two sips ahead of the sunfall. Two sips ahead of my father’s pulse.
The year moved on into seasons of coffee. Spiced autumn brews, bitter tears. Christmas mugs, nostalgia. Cups to go, muddy walks. Bitter coffee, April storms. Iced, panting summer heat. And through it all I came to believe that there was no place on Earth in which I’d find more peace that I had in the ever-deepening brown of a coffee lagoon. For these were dark waters where formless visions swirled into life. Where daydreams hovered between brown and black, trapped in the alchemist’s cauldron.
Am I addicted to your blackened shores? Your golden splatter? Your secrets? The stain you leave on my teeth and my thoughts? Are you not the elixir of the modern life? The lie we tell ourselves when sleep has done us wrong?
“I am not tired,” we say. We sip. “I am not weak,” we say. We sip. “I am not
afraid,” we say. We sip.
Are we not demi-gods, our veins pumping with the electric current of your false,
Or is it love I feel for you?
Coffee, can you hear my stupid poetry?
“I am not tired,” I say. I sip. “I am not weak,” I say. I sip. “I am not afraid,” I say.
“I am not afraid to be like Dad.” I sip. I sip again. Two sips ahead.
Coffee, my love, my father’s great lie, do you hear my stupid poetry?
I remember one morning more than any other. Years ago. He was silently making coffee in the kitchen, just like always. Puffy eyes. One careless wisp of his gray duckfluff hair poking up into oblivion. Then he suddenly looked up and told my sister with a Huckleberry smile that when he died he wanted his ashes put into a coffee can—the tin Folger’s kind—and scattered somewhere off into the sea.
NIMBI is a Korean-American artist from Madison, Wisconsin. He is partial to hip-hop rhythms and singers of the Blues.