Outside at Starbucks

London in Chicago this morning,
solo people gravitate toward caffeine
in quilted, black fitted jackets, some
Dickensian bearded, some Martin
Amis clean-shaven, tall women
with dangling earrings, a few
brooding like sad Virginia without
a room of their own.

I sit alone with my decaf grande
carmel macchiata, and write on
the quarto folded description of
the 45,000 mile service my Audi
Quatro will get today on extended
warranty, cell phone on, expecting
a call from the service department
guy just two blocks away.

A man bums a cigarette for a dollar
like a Melville harpooner in a distant
port and I wonder if this is a signal
for a drug deal until I see that the man
who has the cigarettes is joined by a friend
with two cups of steaming Starbucks
which makes me reflect on
what one of our doormen said:
I always carry a cup of coffee to work
at night because a Black man holding
a cup of coffee in a white neighborhood
is not threatening.

Later, when Audi Repair hasn’t called,
I struggle to walk home like a listing ship
with my bad knee scheduled
for replacement in February.
A woman my age asks, Are you all right?
Behind her, a young man briskly maneuvers
from the footpath to the curb
either to be kind or to avoid me.

Jan Ball