Untitled (coffee shop poem)

Yesterday, a young man

sat in a nondescript maroon-hued

coffee franchise in a shopping centre food court,

watching a heavy-set couple of around his own age

with a baby

sitting at a small, round

table as they waited

for their order. The couple faced each

other while the baby lay

asleep in a stroller beside the table.

The young man was sitting a few feet

away, reading a book.

 

The couple’s order arrived

and the young man raised his head

to look at the contents

of the tray. Muffins; a carbonated soft

drink in a glass bottle;

some other kind of cake, flatter

than the muffin—a tray bake,

of course; two empty cups with saucers

and spoons all balanced

in a way that made the young man

think of a childhood game: Buckaroo!;

a jug of milk—perhaps

hot milk—could he see steam rising?

Finally, a bulbous white teapot,

which the young man gathered would be filled with freshly

brewed, boiling hot tea.

 

The tray was placed on the table behind the couple

by a bemused barista,

as the stroller was blocking

the path to the table they had chosen to occupy.

To the young man, the whole performance looked a mess

of disproportionate spacing

and sizing. Each segment

of the frame housing a cartoon-

like element of chaos. He watched

as the large woman pivoted

on her seat in a slow, stammered shuffle

and stood to lift the overflowing

tray from the table behind

and onto their own.

 

And this is where everything began to matter.

 

Until this moment, everything

seemed to the young man

a rather humdrum

scene in a coffee shop like this one found

anywhere in the world. But when the woman raised

the tray from the table behind, and doing so

in a way devoid of all sense

of consequence, unthinking

entirely of how its varied contents—at once

heavy, sharp, wet, and hot—might be harmful to a sleeping child

of perhaps no more

than three months of age, she attempted

to manoeuvre the tray

directly above the baby

as she or he lay

in deep slumber in the apparent

safety of the expensive-looking,

streamlined stroller.

 

When the edge of the loaded tray crashed

into the rim of the detachable baby seat,

the noise

was nothing more

than the familiar tinny

yet chalky rattle

of teaspoons on crockery. But as the young man

watched from his own table—perhaps the actual

table the couple should have chosen

for ample size ratio—all he could hear

were screams and shattering glass,

gasps from other coffee-drinkers, panic

from the coffee shop staff, as the whole picture exploded

in a crescendo of horror and shame.

 

The woman caught the tray before it fell.

Her partner looked up at her

from his phone.

She placed the tray on the table and no sooner

had it made contact with the surface

when they began devouring

its contents with great zeal. The child,

still sleeping, lay dreaming

beside them, blissfully none-the-wiser.

 

Later, while considering

the fact that, at thirty-four, the young man

had not yet produced any children of his own

along with the strong

possibility that he never would, he sat

in his apartment kitchen reading

an article in a week-old weekend magazine

about something completely unrelated

to parenthood.

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