(listen to the poem here)
Sometimes arriving time-zonked, tweedle-kneed and nearly dumb
in Frankfurt or in London or in some other airport
where people seem to have been stranded many
months ago on strangely molten furniture,
I stumble into a counter which claims that it provides
espresso. As I go grimly inching up the North Face
of my jet lag I pay for one and then I grimace
through the blizzard in my head for two or three
hundred seconds until I come upon a patch of clearish-
mindedness from where I see them frownandfumbling
with the filter basket and realize my coffee is
beyond the rocks, beyond the trees, beyond the hairpin bends,
beyond the chiming of regret, among those rainy clouds,
still miles along the path to the slippery future.
Back home in Rome, any barista worth his sugar
would have turned out a metric dozen by this time,
all the while keeping three conversations bouncing
in the air behind him with his heels, catching
the knifesharp orders thrown at him from every angle
with all the conjugationals of coffee: long, short, in a glass,
with a shot of aniseed or grappa, stained cold, stained hot;
or cappuccino – frothy, dark, light, boiling hot or
Try as you might there is no way to make them
skip a beat, unless perhaps one was to ask for
the spiders would fall startled from the ceiling
and then sound, time, motion and faces
all would freeze because
there’s no such thing.
It means “a milk” (and who knows whether
in a glass? A cup ? Or warm ? Or cold?)
In any case no coffee anywhere in sight.
But then life would resume
and they’d go back to whooshing
blasts of caff and tossing spoons, and
cups and saucers into the sink and stirring
frenziedly making the clutter brattle, crash and clatter.
I don’t know why this must be done,
but never mind, they’re marvels of co-ordination.
If we could think up how to make a spacecraft
based on percolation each one of them would
an astronaut. They’d move in bursts across
the skies, each time they pulled their levers,
exploring black interstellar space and milky ways
leaving long trails of steam and foam.
And when the stars came out, you would wake up,
look up into the night and then you’d smell the smell
which coffee has when it curls round you tight
and presses hard against your cheek then tries to make you tango.
And, grabbing at a tree, a farthest cousin, a no parking sign
or else a passing penguin, perhaps you almost even might.
Phillip Hill 2007
(This poem is included in my book The Observation Car which is available from