On occasions when the muse deigns to visit me, I’m usually catty-cornered and nursing a latte at the Green Bean in Greensboro, North Carolina. It’s the only café in town that could survive if situated in one of the world-class caffeinated cities like Seattle or San Francisco. I’m drawn to the Green Bean because of the quality free-trade beans, but also because there’s a southern mellowness to the atmosphere, and because the baristas are friendly and sport garish tattoos on every square inch of their arms, and because I can go wireless for free all day. The clientele is business/slacker, black/white, old/young. Bohemian is hard to find in this city. I’m more fauxhemian, but the Green Bean is the only place downtown where it’s maybe normal for a gawky, bald dude to lumber through the door every morning and wrestle with poems in the corner.
Right now I’m studying the scene from that very corner. The layout is narrow but deep. Gouges and scuffs mar the wide-board floor. There isn’t a wobbly table or chair in the joint. A white stamped-tin ceiling stares down at me when I beckon the heavens for inspiration. In years past this place might have been a salon or refectory; it might have been a pool hall, a bookstore, a gastro pub.
The physical feature that appeals to me most, more than the walls’ assemblage of hack paintings and photographs that try too hard to speak, are the walls themselves. Algae-green, they’re pocked with a gazillion screw and nail holes, some of which are so big I could stick my finger inside and sample the plaster. Collectively they remind me of avian bore-holes or simply eyes. That no one has attempted to spackle and sand and paint over them charms me. I guess I like inhabiting a space that feels well-used, that flaunts its own history. Most of my attempts at poetry are ephemeral, a palimpsest of hammered errors. When I’m lucky enough to feel the awesome, buzzy, caffeinated sensation I get when I’m (as athletes like to say) in the zone, and my poem’s voice and tone are calibrated and the lines flow easy, even those successes are buttressed, I know, by all of my past failures. Most days I can’t close out a poem. Some days I can’t even begin one.
Today I’m having no luck, so instead I work on these paragraphs. I watch people. I absorb residual details. Ball bearings click in a cop’s sleek bike. A damned good Pandora stream hiccups from Wilco to Toad the Wet Sprocket. A freight train sounds a block away. The muse won’t visit me today, but my coffee has kick, and I know if I keep returning to this spot my fingers will eventually find a few sentences that tremble. On those occasions, rare as they are, I feel like a king.
David Roderick’s first book, Blue Colonial, won the American Poetry Review / Honickman First Book Prize. He teaches poetry and creative writing at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. His poem “Dear Suburb” appeared in the November/December 2011 issue of Orion.