Coffee Houses

Yesterday evening I was turning the pages of Simon Armitage’s book of selected poems 1989-2014 titled Paper Aeroplane. On reading the poem To the Women of the Merrie England Coffee Houses, Huddersfield, I immediately recalled a piece of prose I shared almost two years ago from Mike McCormack’s novel Solar Bones. I will share both pieces with you today and ask you to pause and ponder. I encourage you to be grateful for the ordinary things of this day, even if it is just a cup of coffee or a simple sandwich. Yes, the world is far from perfect, war rages in the Ukraine, lives are so fragile along the southern border of the USA, poverty and injustice abound making life choices so hard for so many and within our own families there is often health challenges which can make each and every day somewhat precarious. Might we together pause today, and ponder some of the words below and then offer a prayer for ourselves and for the world in which we live.

To the Women of the Merrie England Coffee Houses, Huddersfield
(excerpt)
O women of the Merrie England Coffee Houses, Huddersfield,
when I break sweat just thinking about hard work, I think about you.
Nowhere to hide behind that counter, nowhere to shirk.
I’m watching you right now bumping and grinding hip to hip,
I’m noting your scrubbed, pink hands in the cabinet of fancy cakes,
loose and quick among the lemon meringues and cream puffs
and custard tarts, darting and brushing like carp in a glass tank.

O women, the soles of your feet on fire in your sensible shoes,
your fingers aflame, spitting and hissing under the grill.
You, madam, by the cauldron of soup – you didn’t hassle us,
just wiped the crumbs from under our genius poems,
me and the boy Smith, one toasted teacake between us,
eking it out through the cold afternoons, our early drafts
hallmarked and franked with rings of coffee and tea….

Don’t let catering margarine ease off your eternity rings.
Don’t lose your marriages down the waste-disposal pipe.
Hang on to your husbands and friends – no sugar daddies or lovers
or cafetières for you, O women of the Merrie England,
no camomile or Earl Grey, just take-it-or-leave-it ground or char
served in the time-bitten cups my grandmother sipped from,
hooking the milky membrane aside with a spoon, watching it reform.

I’ve seen you nudging and winking. Look who just dropped in, you
                                                                                              say,
The Man Who Fell To Earth, wanting tea for one and the soup of
                                                                                           the day.
I take the window seat and gawp at the steeplejacks: all gone –
Kendall’s, the Coach House, Leeds Road, The White Lion and the
                                                                                            Yards.
But you, under the mock Tudor beams, under the fake shields,
under the falsified coats of arms, you go on, you go on,
O women of the Merrie England, O mothers of Huddersfield, O
                                                                                            ladies!

Solar Bones
(excerpt)
…the waitress arrived with my order, leaving it down neatly on the table – coffee and a club sandwich with the cutlery wrapped in a napkin – the whole thing so neatly assembled and expert looking that I sat for a moment to admire the whole ensemble, the coffee with its brassy smell sunk beneath a creamy head which I was reluctant to disturb and the tidy way the sandwich was laid on the plate beside the small green salad angled towards me like a hip-roof and skewered at both ends by two cocktail sticks – the whole thing so complete in itself that it seemed only right to admire it before I dismantled and ate it which is what I did after letting it sit for as long as it took me to put milk into the coffee and stir it around, after which it was a pleasure to discover that the sandwich tasted as good as it looked and that there was no disparity or margin between its appearance and its taste which was moist with crisp lettuce, tomatoes and chicken between slices of warm toast and before biting into it this moment here, this crowed room with its clutter of chairs and tables, these people, with their separate thoughts and lives. I was overwhelmed with a sense of what a strange privilege it was to be able to sit in this coffee shop among other people who did not wish me any harm and who would, more likely than not, be happy for me if they were to know that I was having a good day – that my wife was on the mend and that my car had started and this was a tasty sandwich and that the sun was shining outside – I was now completely overtaken with a foolish excess of gratitude for this half hour in this coffee shop, a quiet spell among decent people, good food and the careful work of those who ran it…(from Mike McCormack’s novel Solar Bones.)

Prayer:
Holy God
as The Psalmist prayed (ref. Psalm 92)
so help me to pray.
It is good to give thanks
to the Lord,
to sing praises to your name,
O Most High.
With gratitude I wake
in the morning,
and in gratitude I rest
through the night.
Today
help me
to see, and be thankful.
Help me
to declare your steadfast love
in the morning,
and your faithfulness by night.
Amen.

One thought on “Coffee Houses

  1. What a pleasure to read this post today! I admit to the feeling of a foolish excess of gratitude for time in a coffee shop. A weekly early morning half hour in a local, independent coffee shop or café has been a habit since college, interrupted only somewhat by the child-raising years and more recently the pandemic. How these places have changed! What used to be humble environments in church basements or cellars of book sellers are now glossy, modern enclaves with cocoa-sipping toddlers, grab and go business executives, young adults ordering elaborately descriptive drinks and ordinary me with ordinary coffee. Aside from my own home, I’d say that my best thinking, writing, problem solving and relaxing has taken place in coffee shops and diners, places as described in the poetry and prose above. Yes, I am very grateful. Thank you, Edward, and Happy New Year!

    Like

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