Sacred Grounds

by Marissa McNamara Williams


I am writing at the neighborhood coffee shop
       that’s changed hands about five times now
              in as many years. Joe owned it last

and the new owners have kept his quaint coffee names:
       Cup of Joe. Jittery Joe. Regular Ole Joe. The original name
              was Sacred Grounds, so here and there a cross still hangs,

a wooden saint grins, and the neighborhood
       is changing too—green hair and safety pinned clothes
              giving way to families like the woman here now

with her small son, plaid bag slung over her shoulder.
       A roach crawls across the desk where I write, slips
              into the drawer’s crevice, back to his family, I suppose,

to the babies his wife just hatched, the teenagers he doesn’t understand,
       and the elders, slower and wiser, who sit in the desk’s darkness
              telling tales about how things were before Joe, before

Sacred Grounds, even, these griots who remember the family tree—
       who died beneath the sole of which shoe, who was carted away,
              unsuspecting, inside an old stuffed chair, never to return.

I sit, expecting his little legs to drop onto my thigh
       at any time. I’ll bet he’s in there now weighing danger
              against the thrill of surprise, wondering if the story is worth

risking his life for. Perhaps he is lamenting the way things were,
       when bravado was respected, back before coffee sippers
              threatened his life, back when the adventure stories were still true.