Charley pours their coffee,
tells them they look good.
But they know they are just a couple of stiffs,
mannequins with the hangers still in,
too-much-make-up caked on razor-sharp faces.
They lean on the right angles of their ennui.
He never did like that suit.
Too blue for a funeral,
shirt the color of families laughing under an azure sky,
all wrong for sorrow.
His hand, like yesterday’s haddock,
scissors an unlit Chesterfield,
smoke of soldiers
and those who wish they were.
She laments that she has no purse
from which to pull a silver cigarette case,
as she fondles their only book of matches.
Her hair was never this color of carrots
or harlots casing Times Square.
If only they could burn their tongues
on the steaming coffee in mugs
white like calla lilies.
If only they had a gun, they could
rob this man with just a back
and nursing a glass of guilt.
Just for a laugh.
Charley would never tell.
If only they had a car,
not wrecked when he looked away to adore her hair,
moonlight shading it the color of persimmons
as she threw her head back,
laughing her brash red conceit.
First published in Off the Coast, International Poetry Journal Winter 2011.
Charley pours their coffee,
What is the significant of this work to you?
This is an iconic Hopper painting. It is known widely and often one might see a meme of it in many forms. But what struck me most on many viewings is that the characters in the diner don't seem to look real to me. Maybe ghosts? And that prompted a playful rending of a story.
What is the significance of the form you chose for this work?
I adore writing poetry inspired by art. Ekphrasis. Sometimes scary word, but gorgeous poetic form. The painting precedes the poem, inspires it. And then, the poet enters into a conversation with the artist, then herself, then the reader. I love ekphrasis for this continued conversation about art.
What was your process for creating this work?
I view a work of art for a long time. Then, I try to capture in words what I am feeling, the story on and off canvas. Hopefully, the poem becomes not a description so much as a story. Shape and color, perspective and feeling all inform the poem. But I like to incorporate the description and elements of the painting itself in as interesting a way as possible. In this way, I hope I am honoring the artist and the art work while also creating an intriguing poem.
When she isn’t writing poetry about big hair and Elvis, Kim Baker works to end hunger and violence against women. A poet, playwright, photographer, and NPR essayist, Kim has published and edited Word Soup, an online poetry journal that donated 100% of submission fees to food banks. Kim’s chapbook of poetry, Under the Influence: Musings about Poems and Paintings, is available from Finishing Line Press. Kim is currently working on ekphrastic poems inspired by the artwork of Van Gogh.
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