Monday, September 7, 2009

Monday Poetry Assignment: Observation in a café

I sat down two tables from an interesting-looking guy with a packet of papers maybe a good subject but no quicker than I reached for the beer list he was packed up & gone.
Whaddo I do now??
I had this whole poemy business ready to go. But my subject has flown the coop and I'm all fershimmeled. We shall have prose, instead.
Nobody else speaks to me, so to speak.
Not that the bar, the strangely-named Garden Ice Café, is empty on an early fall evening. Summer on the calender, fall in the sky.
Just across the open door from me two 30-something women are chatting. The brunette on the banquette leaning back against the window, the blond leaning forward across the table, empty glasses, Orangina and apple juice. The brunette's feet are several inches off the ground - she waves her feet around to keep the circulation going. Tan sandals, miniskirt, coat still on indoors. Hands gesturing constantly.
Two tables down, another pair of women in serious conversation. Nobody dressed anything special. Just an after-work stop.
Farther on again, a white-haired man. Maybe 80, maybe a hard-used 70. His umbrella rests against the banquette. It rained for about 5 minutes earlier today. He digs in the pockets of his blue cardigan looking for a tip to leave, standing up to go. He has no neck. His jowly cheeks and chin hang down to his white shirt collar.
A couple arrives at the bar. He fiftyish, casual summer blazer and jeans. She I can't really see, on the far side of Monsieur. They take glasses of water, nibble on peanuts, seem to be waiting for something more important. She plays with her straight brown hair, repositions her large brown bag on the bar, studies something outside. Quickly they're gone. People with a destination.
The pairs of women are still deep in their hand-animated conversations.
Four people are now at the table abandoned by Mr Interesting with Papers. A young black woman with a long thick braid, speaking with an African accent. A man facing her, 20 years older, the one being spoken to. A brown baby, quiet but not sleeping in his stroller, a young man whose glassed face says Student beside the girl. They're the couple.
The men drink wide glasses of Affligem beer, the woman a cup of tea. Baby explores his yellow-trimmed bib.
The first girl couple leaves. A woman alone sits where the old man was. She pours a glass from a carafe of water, looks over the room from behind her clasped hands, elbows on the table. She could be me without the notebook. Oh, she does have a notebook, and a green pen. Then it's back to observing, one hand to her chin. Maybe she's working on a poem.
Or maybe she's not observing, but staring off into space. Looking vaguely toward the black woman, whose baby good-naturedly tolerates being dandled by the older man, without seeing anyone in particular. I know that. I do it often. Sometimes people speak to me and I notice on what must be the third or fourth overture. One man at the cafeteria remarked what a solid silence I had around me. I was just reading the Sunday paper.
She's eating a salad, my mirror. I know that too, having dinner out on my own. Purely functional. I only do that when I'm travelling now. I wonder if this woman is traveling too. Her hair is straight and brown and thin. Nice glasses. A little soft in the arms. Could be me but I have shoulders like a farmer, all tendons and bones.
The other women have gone, and a man in a yellow polo shirt is at the table by the door. 55, balding but not hiding it. He's served coffee, pays in coins. One sugar. He looks around, glances at the tv, looks like he'd rather be sitting there with a friend. Just bored there on his own.
Ms Mirror consumes her salad the french way, in huge forkfuls. I always break down and cut it. I hate getting dressing all over my face. She pours the last of the carafe of water. I'd have had a glass of white wine. She watches the tv, which is more or less above my head. A concert is being shown, some pianist and singer. I wonder what she'll have for dessert. It seems she'll be staying for dessert: it's too early to retire to an empty hotel room. Ice cream, or a crepe. No, the fruit salad. She's the fruit salad kind.
People start smoking just outside the open door - the smoke comes right in, right to me, so I pay for my beer and leave without waiting to know what's for dessert.


Sarah Lulu said...

Ohh how I love people watching too.

Barry said...

I love the phrase "a solid silence", it says so much so clearly.

Beautiful prose-poem Nancy with much acute observation. I guess pubs are pretty much the same everywhere? As are people.

My Verification des Mots is "recode", so maybe I should rethink what I just said.

NanU said...

It was a fun assignment. Got me out of the house on a weeknight, too. Reading TFE's, though, I suddenly regretted being so superficial. Every surface noted, but what if I had gone further with Ms Mirror? It's easy sit with a glass and note everything that goes on around, eyes to fingers like my camera. Next time I should engage the brain more.

Totalfeckineejit said...

I enjoyed this very much,nanu, and by coincidence was too struck by the phrase'solid silence'Think I'll be stealing that if you haven't copyrighted it! I liked the cameo self portrait too.You left this reader wanting more which is the perfect ending.Thanks for joining in.

Titus said...

Oh no! I'm another "solid silence" fan. It just leapt out at me too.

NanU, I really enjoyed this. It was like being there, honestly, and I was sat in the cafe listening to you speak to me, whilst we both watched the people come and go.
Really good, and I like your style.

Dominic Rivron said...

"Oh, she does have a notebook, and a green pen..." You got me imagining that TFE's Monday thing was so popular that the pubs were full of people with notebooks, watching each other! :)

the watercats said...

love this!... I was reading it the whole way through with a bristling Noo Yoik accent.. later on a saxaphone started playing and the background noises snuck in like a radio programme... It was a perfect scene for shenanigans!..

Niamh B said...

Really enjoyed this as well, it's true - there's probably a blog somewhere saying "the girl who looks a bit like me goes off home before I get my dessert and in comes.... to take her place"

Reya Mellicker said...

This is beautiful. I felt like I was there, sitting next to you, listening and having salad.

Huge forkfuls, eh?

Patty said...

I am moving fast, trying to catch up. I will have to come back and read your post. I did want to say that you banner photo rocks. Splendid work.

NanU said...

HUGE forkfuls! It's strange to see such a prim people stuff whole leaves in their mouths.

Now that's a new one - Hospital laundry rocks. I do try to let myself go.

Hammer said...

Very well done - thanks for helping me take a small joureny outside of my famliar weeknight walls.

india said...

wrong town, might otherwise have been me on the wander with that notebook
much enjoyed these observations....