Tuesday, April 11, 2006
I enter the cafe like it is a sacred temple gate in Japan. Entering gives sense of place, a transformation into a fresh new world.
Scent of coffee instead of incense. Cafe goers seated at tables, some reading the morning paper, others chatting, still others writing and gazing through windows open to the day. There are no bells here, no hands clasped together in prayer to Kwan Yin or Avalokitesvara, no blow from a wooden stick to wake you up. Cafe walls are not decorated with thousands of small white paper prayers twisted on pine boughs around which an altar of wafting incense, weathered bronze bell, stacked barrels of sake, fragrant mandarin oranges, and small gold bowls of uncooked rice are found.
Here, secular art adorns each wall. Opera, rap, rock, and jazz add to the pulse of coffee beans grinding, laughter, baby crying, steaming whirr of espresso machine, dish atop dish, metal spoon against china cup stirring. Strains of shakuhachi are not heard.
No orange koi in the pond. There is no pond. No lotus leaves floating gently upon dark water. No pine-green mossy shade. No gray robed monk raking gravel into circular patterns around great gray stones. No tatami coolness to step onto barefoot, leaving sandals behind on smooth wooden platform.
Here I write, sip coffee, sip tea, eat a salad, taste sweetness of chocolate morsels. Here I chat with friends who are my friends only inside these cafe walls. We inhale the creamy, earthy, warmth rising from our cups. Our memory is jarred upon seeing these words: Tipping is not a city in China. Clank of coin in glass jar is said to bring great merit. We give thanks for this: our spiritual home away from home.
Ninety-five cents is not a steep price to pay for a cup of small cherries hand-picked ripe from the bush then placed under the sun where they dry a matte green in tropical highland air. Roasted and ground, infused with boiling water, this magical blend becomes an elixir.
Behind the counter, coffee house priestess and priest serve my every need. I chant the sacred syllables: decaf latte, cappuccino with cocoa, iced mocha to go.
Steam, whirr, clank, slurp.... O, sutra for all seasons, may your bittersweet essence lead me to rhythmical creations of poetic splendor for the benefit of all sentient beings.
OM MANI PADME HUM
Nicole Raisin Stern
* * * * * * *
Inspired by one of my flickr.com artist friends (plein air artist and film maker, Laurie), this is another in a series of my art and photos paired with my poetry. As you can see from the poem, the price of a "cup of cherries" has increased quite a bit since 1995 when I wrote this piece. The photo is of the epic cafe scene in Tucson, Arizona; September 2005.