I am sitting in the attic, with a navy Anya Night Club hoodie on, because the attic is cold this time of year.
Anya was a friend of my girls, back when they went to a weekly “farm school” program, and the hoodie was a bat mitzvah gift to them, because they attended Anya’s coming-of-age ceremony and its riotous follow-up celebration.
The attic is anything but riotous, which is why I am up here, where the mahogany-colored wood is old and time feels slow.
Sitting in my navy hoodie, up in the old, cold attic, I am looking for mental space to write to you. Mental space is something I’m in short supply of, and I recently decided that even though I feel extremely pressed for a variety of reasons, I must secure some kind of space for myself if I am going to survive what needs surviving.
When I awoke earlier today at Starbucks, after a quick nap in the sun, in the softest red-orange leather chair I’ve ever sat in, I realized that I’d slept for an unintended hour-and-a-half. I daydreamed for just 10 wakeful minutes, then I gathered my things and went to pick up my daughter, who was just getting out of her junior seminar class for an undergraduate degree in journalism.
Sleeping at Starbucks is probably a bit unorthodox, but this particular location is adjacent to the college dorms, and everyone is always sleepy in college and they occasionally nap in unexpected places, so I figured it was all good, and I closed my eyes in the sun.
The red-orange leather chair was big enough to curl up in entirely. In fact, two cheery blue-eyed twins had decided to co-occupy the matching chair across from mine. We were a strange little party, there at Starbucks: one tired woman waiting for her daughter and two energetic twins waiting for nothing in particular (so it seemed), sipping our mutual joy.
This is what Starbucks offers you, right on the cup: joy.
For $4.75, I’d tried to secure a little of the promise, in the form of a matcha latte. As I was sitting there in the sun, it struck me that I could have bought an entire year of Every Day Poems (which also promises, among other things, a bit of joy) for almost the same price.
Not every poem in the EDP subscription will bring a person joy, but sometimes poems come into our lives to bring us other things: insight, peace, a pause, a breath. It’s not necessary to get any of these things every time we read a poem. It’s enough to sometimes get just the thing we didn’t know we were looking for. This thing might stay with us, far past the reading.
Just yesterday, such a poem entered my life, when Basecamp’s Wailin Wong shared the final production of the Poetry at Work Rework podcast. Wailin had kindly interviewed me for the podcast. I got to talk about poems as a call from one heart to another, and poems as meeting places, and poems that become seeds to give us even the smallest of vital new ideas.
The podcast included others besides me: Wailin (of course); her colleague Shaun Hildner; Leslie, a mischievously sweet woman who works in fundraising at National Louis University and who read a pineapple poem to her colleagues on Poetry at Work Day; and Don Share of Poetry Foundation. There were also a few readers from the Basecamp staff who shared poems during “poem breaks” in the narrative.
Troy Toman, their Director of Operations, read John O’Donohue’s For One Who Is Exhausted, a Blessing—from the book To Bless the Space Between Us—and I found myself going back to the poem later. My older daughter and I listened to it together and discussed it, agreeing it was a keeper that has a lot to say to the weary of mind, body, and heart. The poem opens:
When the rhythm of the heart becomes hectic,
Time takes on the strain until it breaks;
Then all the unattended stress falls in
On the mind like an endless, increasing weight.
The light in the mind becomes dim.
Things you could take in your stride before
Now become laborsome events of will.
Weariness invades your spirit.
Gravity begins falling inside you,
Dragging down every bone.
This morning, before I took my daughter to college for her junior seminar class, I could feel that gravity, times ten. “I think my body is actually still partly asleep,” I told her. “I can’t move any faster than I’m moving. I just can’t. I’m sorry if it makes us late.”
We were ten minutes late when I dropped her off, for which I did feel sorry. I decided that, while I waited, I’d go sit at Starbucks and order something, which I never do. There in the coffee shop, I hadn’t been expecting the sun, the softest red-orange leather chair, the matcha. The phrase from O’Donohue’s poem—“for one who is exhausted”—played in my mind and, right then, I decided to pass up the chance to do a little reading for the 30 Day Writing Challenge I’m developing and, after finishing the frothy green latte, I closed my eyes. Just for a few minutes, I told myself. An hour-and-a-half later, I was contemplating Starbucks’ promise of joy, contemplating the reason for reading a daily poem, and suddenly knowing I would be writing this to you—and maybe, should it feel like a keeper, starting a whole new column called “Poems From the Coffee Shop.” Even though I am a tea drinker.
The O’Donohue poem also contains the following lines, and regardless of what you drink, they might be for you:
You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.
Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.
Maybe, I thought, I will take refuge in my senses at Starbucks each week, while I wait for my daughter. Neither the tea, nor the coffee (so I hear), are particularly unusual feasts for the senses. But that’s not entirely the point. The poem reminds my heart of the real reason to try out this new weekly ritual…
Gradually, you will return to yourself,
Having learned a new respect for your heart
And the joy that dwells far within slow time.
Featured photo by John Beans, Creative Commons, via Flickr. Post by L.L. Barkat.
Choose a favorite line from anywhere in this post and use it to open or close your own “coffee shop” poem.
We sometimes feature your poems in future posts or in Every Day Poems if they are a fit! (For Every Day Poems, we would contact you for permission to feature in the inbox publication.)
Thoughts on Creativity & Writing, from L.L. Barkat
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