Sunday, November 01, 2009

Coffee Rogue: Three Prose Poems

(originally appeared in The North American Review)

I see you: a tall, golem-faced ectomorph skulking around the office casting the sidelong glances of an accomplished flasher. Your soul is poisoned, I have no doubt of that, the way you fill your coffee mug from the communal pot and leave only that last, spiteful splash behind, never, ever, never bothering yourself to brew a fresh pot.

Do you come from an unbroken line of rotters? I see your first ancestors urinating into campfires that took all night to light, feigning injury while the rest of the tribe went out hunting; your forebears hanging around the cave eying the interns.

What unnerves me most, is that your footsteps make no sound. I recall, once, voiding at a urinal in the restroom and hearing the door open, and then suddenly you were squaring up at the urinal next to me; your presence making my bashful bladder shrivel.

Coffee rogue, I think about filling two carafes with toilet water and walking up behind you at your desk and smashing the carafes together like cymbals above your head. But something tells me you’d probably enjoy that.


You hover around the coffee maker like a crow seeking carrion. You are the Iago-gossip slithering about, calm and content in your meager shell that belies no self-indulgence. Still, you are a rogue wave amid womanhood, your cabbage patch half-smile and see-nothing eyes do not deflect me from knowing you mean none of us well. Unlike your male counterpart, you hang back so that you’re not actively disliked, though I don’t doubt that if you were a sorority sister on the Isle of Lesbos millennia ago -- as the naked volleyball team practiced on the beach beneath the new sky -- that you would have groused in shadows and hogged all of the barrettes for yourself.


There you are, humiliating yourself, making feeble amends, filling a coffee pot from the water cooler with a look on your face like you're aiding animal husbandry or pouring molten steel into a thimble. Your ferret eyes turn to me as I enter the kitchenette, your gray expression exuding the contempt of kings emptying their own chamber pots.

Watching your awkward, motionless operation, I envision you at the age of nine, sleeping over a friend's house the night a storm swells outside. In the middle of the night, lightning pitchforks from the sky, thunder rumbles its malevolent bass note, and your friend's mother opens a groggy eye in that momentary flash to see you standing at the foot of the bed like a Brady Bunch Jack the Ripper.

Parents throughout your old neighborhood whispered to one another, "Something off about that boy."

My morbid mind wonders if you wear this expression while making love to your wife or hugging your children; your rogue DNA painted through their morose cells like graffiti on a train trestle.

At least, as we stand waiting while the coffee brews, I don't have to worry about making small-talk.

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