I can’t read his words, but because of the way
they justify left and stagger at right
I think that the stranger I see every morning
at Starbucks might be a poet like me.
This much I know from two tables away:
He doesn’t seem to measure the meter
with fingers that count on the table to ten.
(Iambic pentameter must be old school.)
He often pauses to stroke his chin
and gaze outside at the painterly rain
in case there are words out there he forgot,
but like Eliot maybe a gusty shower
would wrap his feet with some grimy scraps
and newspapers drifting from vacant lots.
Sometimes he adds to a sentence and scowls
at certain words like belligerent kids
who don’t play well with others—in fact
bully and president never were friends—
then searches for signs of alliteration.
He seems to think they come from the ceiling
or smoldering scarves of burning bright stars
draped on the shoulders of midnight sky.
Perhaps he deletes to erase abstract words—
they’re always in need of something concrete—
grief, for example, and how it can rob you
of hair that was already thin at the temple
seven months after a loved one has died.
I do think he sees the lyric potential
of pear trees festooned in lace-white blooms
for a couplet about the semblance of snow
in the parking lot here in San Diego.
Finally I ask him ask, Are you a poet?
wondering if he might struggle like me.
No, he says simply, A scientist.
I see I was wrong. Although I believe
that poetry lives in the universe
as well as a test tube, and surely at birth.
He pushes the glasses up on his nose
and I to sip at life’s mysteries.