Third Place Poetry: "Coffee Shop"

by Katharyn Howd Machan

He's fallen in love with her, the girl
who cannot meet the eyes of strangers.
From behind the counter where he

sells fresh quiche, good orange juice,
cinnamon buns warm and heavy
to place beside a thick strong mug

of brew. Two days, three, four
days a week she comes in alone,
orders without looking up,

pays in bills and silver coins
from a small pink leather purse.
Dark hair, bangs sweeping low,

narrow hips in long straight skirts
or sometimes jeans, a jacket.
Only once has she answered his gaze,

startled when he asked a question
about milk or sugar in the espresso
she decided she wanted that day. Love

wasn’t yet the word he used
as he wondered where she went
other mornings, how nights spelled

the name he must guess. Until
that one gray rainy Friday when she
left behind a sparkling notebook

opened tight to two hurried lines:
And if my hands get chewed off
by a bear
. . . Something

to keep safe until her return.
A way past the counter.
A question. A poem.