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Coffee in the Afternoon

It was afternoon tea, with tea foods spread out
Like in the books, except that it was coffee.

She made a tin pot of cowboy coffee, from memory,
That's what we used to call it, she said, cowboy coffee.

The grounds she pinched up in her hands, not a spoon,
And the fire on the stove she made from a match.

I sat with her and talked, but the talk was like the tea food,
A little of this and something from the other plate as well,

Always with a napkin and a thank-you. We sat and visited
And I watched her smoke cigarettes

Until the afternoon light was funny in the room,
And then we said our good-byes. The visit was liniment,

The way the tea was coffee, a confusion plain and nice,
A balm for the nerves of two people living in the world,

A balm in the tenor of its language, which spoke through our hands
In the small lifting of our cups and our cakes to our lips.

It was simplicity, and held only what it needed.
It was a gentle visit, and I did not see her again.

—Alberto Ríos

from Atlanta Review (Volume VII, Number 1. Fall / Winter 2000)

Copyright 2000 by Poetry Atlanta, Inc.
All rights reserved.

Reprinted by permission of Alberto Ríos from Atlanta Review. Copyright 2000 by Poetry Atlanta, Inc. For further permissions information, contact Alberto Ríos, or his assistant Heather Hoyt,

Poetry 180

About the Poet

Alberto Ríos (1952- ) is the author of 12 poetry collections, including A Small Story About the Sky (Copper Canyon Press, 2015). From 2013-2015, he is serving as the Arizona State Poet Laureate.

Learn more about Alberto Ríos at The Poetry Foundation.