cabernet, coffee grounds and the in between / A coffee poem from Karen Suriano


a lawyer’s wife once told me

upon learning i made my own wine

that she read somewhere

the mark of a good cabernet

is a bouquet reminiscent

of the lingering, mingling smell

(and she said this part with great gusto)

of compost and good sex.

she thought it a remarkably accurate description

and relished in the repeating of it.


i can see her still

tall, thin, satisfied

swirling the imaginary wine glass in her hand

leaning against her white marble counters

a backdrop of wisteria through the kitchen window

her black foster child running amok

through doorways, wildly laughing

as her own white children stood witness




i see and hear her say those words

every time i explore a wine’s bouquet —

and also, oddly

whenever the aroma of

freshly ground coffee

arouses my nose.

it is strange how

on the heels of that memory

scuttles this earlier one:


acrid aroma on the 6 a.m. drive

from my apartment

to my job as scenic carpenter.

i drive near enough

to chicago’s trash incinerators

to be surprised over and again

how the pungency of burning garbage

smells like over-roasted coffee beans

ground dark and fine.


so there, perhaps,

is the compost of my thoughts.

and the good sex part of this flashback

sits in the passenger seat beside me

sleepy-eyed, gingerly sipping his java

from an old thermos cup

without spilling or scalding,

both of us wincing when the rising sun

stabs us in the eyes

through the windshield.


such are the strange

synaptic connections that fire

with every glass of cabernet

every scoop of ground coffee

or the unmistakable scent of afterglow,

linking together a rush and tumble

of barefooted sensory imprints

overlapping and stepping on themselves

…smog in sunrise…iron tools, flannel shirts

…thin white hands, invisible glass…sharp smoke

…cool smooth marble…earthy warm moldering leaves

…flashing teeth, laughing child…brown curly hair

…work boots and lunch boxes…creeping flowering vines

…and sleepy, sweet, sweet love beside me…


not bad returns for a

first cup o’ joe in the morning

a nightcap before bed

and all that we hope for

in the in between






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