Coffee Shop · S. E. Clark

I have an unhealthy trust of dogs.
I’ve had to learn to sheath my
reaching hand, to wait for permission
before exposing my fingers
to a creature with teeth.

Some dogs are friendly,
others less so.

The same goes for coffee shops and
other shared spaces.
In some shops conversation is a given –
Look around, catch an eye, smile.
This is the place for hookups and marriages.

In Boston coffee shops I have seen more smiling dogs
than people.

Here we come with our own,
we talk with our own,
we do not acknowledge the existence of strangers
apart from ‘excuse me,’
apart from claiming tables with our books
and chairs with our coats.

I have done the same to the man
sitting across from me – we are
poised for conversation but I haven’t
met his eyes
though he searches for mine.
I haven’t said a word
though he coughs and sighs.

This is probably rude.
I know this is rude.
Old men write op-eds about this behavior, how it
signals the end of polite society.

I could open this window between us –
perhaps he is waiting for permission.
I could ask him what he’s reading,
why he’s wearing sandals in February.
He seems harmless enough,
all strangers do.

But I am from Boston
and I have learned to be wary of creatures with teeth.

S.E.Clark lives in a small town outside of Boston where she wanders through the graveyards collecting names. She graduated from Lesley University’s Creative Writing MFA program in 2015 and her work has previously appeared in several publications including Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, The Drum, Nixes Mate Review and Panoply.