Poem: Small Town Talk

Small Town Talk

Two cups of coffee and a thick head,
less from the hour of the day than something else,
something you cannot quite identify,
an emptiness you cannot quite penetrate,
thick as an early morning fog that refuses
to lift.

At the next table are Mexicans.
Most days they are up long before this,
already in the fields, sweating in the October air.
For the last week they have worked near your house,
digging sweet potatoes in numbers that are eye-popping.
Today they are done. Leaving, they tell me,
for the next set of fields. They laugh
and chatter like children.

To the right is a couple out of nursery rhymes.
She is big, muscular,
a firm, strong, decisive voice.
She leans over the table like a mighty vulture,
over her little man, thin and wiry,
furtive like a squirrel, dark eyes darting
around the room. Yet, somehow, you know,
he is in charge, despite her bluster.

Over at the bar are the regulars,
discussing small town politics and scandals,
arbiters of all truth.
They are there each morning. Widowers most of them,
they flirt outrageously, like nineteen year old boys,
at the waitress, who is perhaps, younger than that.
No one believes the flirts. It is all make believe, a bit sour,
but good for tips.

Catty-corner across the room are the church ladies
in for their once a week coffee klatch,
discussing the latest books,
their hair freshly done for their once a week outing,
ready to be seen and heard as they live out
their friendship of fifty years or more
earnestly, eye contact and sympathy.

You can see the kitchen from here.
The cook is a model of steadiness,
never hurried. Never flustered,
each movement precise, efficient.
He talks to no one, but from his back room,
he knows each customer’s quirks and favorites.
As soon as you walked in, he was preparing
your egg and sausage, An invisible servant.

People talk. All morning, people talk
as if no one can hear them. Intimacies
and politics and broken hearts and anger
flow around the room like dust motes in the sun.
No wonder that in a small town
everyone knows everything, or at least
think they do. And for most,
that is enough.

About this poem

I hit a writing wall this morning, so I just wrote about what was going on, like a portrait in words. Eventually, a poem came out. Poems, after all, can come out of anything.



  1. This was a vicarious return to coffee shop gatherings with my local poetry group – thank you! I miss those days of physically gathering, sharing our lives and writing together to impromptu prompts, sharing interpretations, and almost surely being overheard by others in the room (we sometimes included overheard snippets in our on-the-spot writing.)

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