Empty Cafe, Museu de les Ciències, Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències, Valencia, Spain

Something a Little Bit Right

It was great when I heard
My favourite cafe opened up again
Hadn’t had a decent cuppa in over a month

Can’t afford an expresso machine of my own
Just the bodum I picked up at the grocery
The day I also found yeast


Rarer than toilet paper

Rarer than a kiss for a single bloke like me
In this freakin’ pandemic

Anyway, the bodum
If you double the usual amount of grounds
I suppose it’s OK
If you got really good beans
Real dark, the Tanzanian is the best
Ground to the perfect chunkiness
But it ain’t nuthin’ like Frank’s americano

I suppose even if I had an expresso machine
It still wouldn’t be nuthin’ like Frank’s

I dunno
The guy’s magic

And a good guy too
We get on
I’ve followed him around for a while
His fourth cafe in five years
“I get bored if I stay in one place too long”
He told me once

So anyways
I hear the cafe’s opened up again
An’ I rush right out there

I see through the glass
Frank’s on today

I also see inside there’s a bit of a queue
And the tables and chairs are all set out
Lined up tickety-boo
Sparse and empty
Like a display in an upscale furniture store

Every time I walk in here
I get the same tingly feeling up my spine
Heat on the back of my neck
That cringe you get
When you feel like you’re in the wrong place

I like Frank’s last cafe better than this one
It has armchairs and a fireplace
All warm and cozy
Like a family room
I’d hang there for hours
Chattin’ up regulars and whoever

This one’s all artsy as fuck
Greys and blacks
Angular and hard
Not the kinda place you go to hang
I almost always take my java togo

I got no reason to hang
People come here to confer with clients
Whine to their colleagues
About their stock market woes
Suit and tie designer shit

Frank told me once
“Looks over comfort”
“Image over presence”

Ass thet icks

Fuck that shit

Did I tell you Frank has a degree?
Communications or somethin’
I get the feeling sometimes
He’s way smarter than the people
He makes perfect coffees for

The queue stretches
Right back to the door
I recognize some regular crowd
But more casz
No ties
Some jeans
Even a t-shirt
I suppose even the assthetes
Are loosening up

I right dogged it to get here
So I’m a bit knackered
Figure I’ll take a seat
In one of the spindly
Uncomfortable but oh-so-assthetick chairs

I’ve barely begun to slide it
Across the cold stone floor when


It’s Frank
He’s shooting me that
What the fuck!?!?

So I give him the
What’d I do!?!?!
Look back

He’s flickin’ his head back at the door
“Can you not read?!”
Lookin’ at me as if I’m dumb as fuck

There’s a chrome whiteboard stand
With big block letters
Written in black marker


Everybody in the queue’s lookin’ at me
Like I’m dumb as fuck too
So I throw ’em all the
What? Like you’re all perfect!?
Look right back
As I go to join the line

“Please put the chair back…”
Dripping ‘world-weary’ grimness
Frank isn’t even looking up
From the mocha he’s serving

I roll my eyes
Push the chair back to tickety-boo
And join the queue
Just as it moves six feet forward

“…and mind your spacing, Johnny”

I look down
And sure enough I’ve got both feet
Inside the strip of charcoal grey tape
Which is six feet behind the next strip
Of charcoal grey tape
Which is six feet behind the next one
And the next one
All on the jet black stone floor

So I step back
Behind my strip of charcoal grey tape
Muttering out loud
“What… green painter’s tape
Ain’t posh enough
For this swank cafe, Frank?”

That has the opposite effect
From what I might’ve expected
If I’d muttered it
With any expectations at all
Or even a thought

Frank gives me a grin
And a wink
I even hear a couple chuckles
From the shirt-and-tie/pantsuit crowd

All is forgiven I guess

I’ve been noticing…
People are…

I got a bit of a wait
So I pull out the phone
Check worldometer for pandemic updates

Things are looking better
In some places
Worse in others
Sweden’s fucked now
Worst death rate on the planet
And they’re still not testing
So who knows how bad it really is
But the US has finally leveled off
After that huge spike in the mid-west
Today NYC started to lift restrictions


Frank’s voice startles me
He’s lookin’ at me
Crooked smile
Gleamin’ eye on the crooked side
Like always
Nods down at the counter

“Triple shot americano
No extra water”

It’s good to hear his voice

I hadn’t even noticed
I’d reached the counter
Or saw him put the paper cup
Of black gold there
Or that I’m the only customer
Left in the shop

I put the phone in my left pocket
Reach into my right one
For the wallet
But before I can get it out

“No, man. That one’s free.”

I’ve still got my hand on the wallet
Still kinda wrestling to get it out

“Aww, Frank.
You don’t have to do that
Govey cheque’s in the bank
I’m good…”

Frank’s stopping me
Waving his hand

“No, Johnny
It’s a management call
Well, I suggested it
But they’re 100% on board
Everybody gets a free one
We’re just happy to be back
And happy you’re all still here
And coming back”

That’s pretty fuckin’ awesome
So I leave the wallet be

“Thanks man
Thank Hal for me, too”

Reaching for the cup
I think about the chair

“Hey, Frank, sorry about the chair bit.”

Frank chuckles

“No worries, Johhny
Sorry I yelled at you.”

As he’s saying all that
I’m taking a deep breath
Of that black gold aroma

“It’s all good
I was so chuffed
About getting one of these
I totally missed the sign”

As he laughs
I’m taking in another whiff
The brew’s still way to hot
To risk giving it a taste
Much as I’d like to
But I whiff again
While his laughter settles down

“You’re not the first today
Not by a long shot
Everybody’s been doing it
The first sign had little letters
Which politely read:”

Due to CDC guidelines
And for your safety
Please do not sit at the tables

“I was getting a bit frustrated
With nobody getting the message
And had just rewritten the sign
With language and letters
No one could possibly miss
Just a few minutes before you arrived”

I laughed hard at all that
Jiggling the coffee cup
Nearly spilling its precious cargo

“Oh, Frank… now I’m really sorry!”

Frank was gutting himself

“No, man. It’s me who’s sorry
I should change the sign back
That wasn’t my best moment
The sign
Or yelling at you…
We need to be better to each other”

We’re all in this together!”

There was a bit more sarcasm in that
Than I’d intended
Or maybe not
I was getting a bit tired
Of the news show mantra
That phrase was becoming

He doesn’t seem to notice the sarcasm

Not so much that
But we’re all in this
And maybe this is giving us pause…
…to reconsider…”


“Maybe this pandemic
Has put us in a better frame of mind
To finally learn the together part”

I like the sound of that

“It’s good to hear your voice, Frank
It’s good to talk to you again
I almost always learn something
When I talk to you”

“Thanks, Johnny
It’s good to talk to you, too”

I nod
Think on it for a second

“So why aren’t the chairs
Just stacked upside down on the tables
Like everywhere else?”

He starts cleaning up the counter
While he’s talking

“Another management decision
Not my suggestion though
It’s creating some frustration for me
As you already know
We had the chairs on the tables
When we first opened up
Hal came in a bit later
He stopped just inside the front door
Looked around for a few seconds
Nope he said
That just looks like crap
Set ’em up right
So we did”

Holding my americano against my chest
I turn around and look at the place
I kinda have to a agree with Hal
Much as I hate the “upscale day-core”
The place feels better this way

“Maybe,” I start to say
“With all the crap that’s happenin’
It’s just good to have one thing
That feels a little… right
Maybe it’s worth the extra effort
To have that”

The clanking behind the counter stops


I’m taking another whiff
And I can feel through the cup
It’s almost cool enough
To try a sip


I snap out of my java trance
Look around at Frank
Who’s standin’ there
Lookin’ right at me
When he says

“I miss talking to you
Because I always seem
To learn something new from you
Every time we talk.”

I laugh
And look away
Kind of embarrassed
Try to cover it with yammer

You’re way smarter than me
You got this all sussed out
I’m sure.”


He waits for me to look at him again

“Maybe by the end of next year
Or definitely the end the year after
Even with this bloody pandemic
There will be 8 billion people
On this planet
And not one of them
No matter how smart they are
Or how smart they think they are
Can’t learn something new
And important
From Johnny Hawkins
Don’t you ever forget that
Don’t you let anyone ever
Tell you different”

He says it
In a way that says
He means every word of it

We ain’t never hugged
It’s not my thing
I don’t know about him
But I really wanna hug this guy
If only to hide my watery eyes

So we just hold each other’s eye
With that little nod guys use
To share respect

Frank breaks the silence

“It’s closing time, man
Actually, a fair bit after
And I got the wife to get back to”

I’m still a bit speechless
Raise my cuppa as if it’s a cheer
Croak out a thank you
And make my way for the door

I’ve got the afternoon shift again”

He says, just as I’m noticing
There’s no lids in the lid dispenser

“You’re out of lids”

Disease transmission vehicles
No lids until this is over”


I turn for the door
Say over my shoulder

“Damn, I’ll have to drink this faster
Or it’ll get cold before I’m done”

The clanking starts again behind me.

“Flip the closed sign on your way out?”

I hold the cup aloft

“Got it! Thanks!”

I stop for a moment
Watch Frank as he cleans up for the night

I told you he was a good guy
We ain’t friends or nuthin’

No. Wait. We are friends
I realize, we really are

I take a small pull from the cup
And it’s everluvin’ fuckin’ perfect
Hot nectar of the gods

And the tables and chairs and decor
They seem OK now
Right proper even
Maybe I’ll hang out here some
When we got this crap behind us

I turn for home
Roll another swig of coffee around on my tongue
And tally up a couple more things
That’re a little bit right
with this crazy world

Something a Little Bit Right
Museu de les Ciències
Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències
Valencia, Spain

Taken during travels, yesterday, 2019

I posted The Apocalypse of Being a few days ago. Someone observed, quite rightly, that both the photograph and the poem for that post created rather haunting images. I thought it might be an interesting challenge to use that photograph again, and use it to inspire words in a very different context… to see if I couldn’t make the photograph more inviting than haunting.

I really didn’t expect it to become an epic poem of about 1,900 words.

It’s still a bit rough, but I’m running out of hours in the day and I’ve been working on it since last night. Whatever edits remain, I’ll leave for another day.

NaPoWriMo 2020
Day Seventeen; Poem One
Thirty Four poems total

#stayhome #washyourhands #wearamask #writepoetry