I arrived at the downtown café after the lunch crowd had already gone back to their nine-to-five desks. I ordered an iced soy latte and sunk into a seat at one of the outdoor tables that butted up against the busy sidewalk, drinking up the passing attention and sunshine. The café’s regulars were subdued in the early spring light, talking amiably, mixing their voices with birdsongs. Tourists walked to and fro, carrying shopping bags and flashing mouthfuls of talk. Bodies swayed to the music of the street. In the distance, a storm announced its arrival at nightfall. The electricity in the air alerted the senses.
I sat in plain sight and counted out syllables on the tips of my fingers, forgetting that while we coffee-shop sitters watched the passersby, we were also being watched. My thumb traveled efficiently from fingertip to fingertip; it wasn’t its first counting job. My lips mumbled each word aloud while my head nodded along to the stressed sounds. Iambic pentameters swam laps inside my head and traveled to my fingertips only to circle back around. Every so often, I’d pause and scribble in my notebook before resuming the count. Thumb to fingertips. Lips shaped sounds. The bitterness of espresso on my tongue.
Sunlight crossed the street, but I was too involved in my craft to be aware. People became moving shadows. Voices were wind sounds. Shakespeare would’ve approved of the attention I paid to my English sonnet.
On my walk back to the car, there was a homeless man on the sidewalk. He smelled of sweat, marijuana and burrito. He stood on stiff legs with forehead pressed against the side of a building. And in the shadow of that brick wall, he was counting his fingers with his thumb and mumbling aloud inaudible words. Are we both poets, or are we both lunatics? Does it matter if there isn’t a difference?