Poets Online Talking about Coffee: Ken Taylor

First the trees, now the coffee?

I have to live with the trees, so I gave them first billing. But coffee was first. Probably before there was light. Often before light. Cowboy to cortado to go. Nectar. Blood. Whoever wrote: Der Weg stirbt didn’t drink coffee. Actually I know who wrote it. Frobenius. That’s because I read Olson when I drink coffee. Today: Beans coming out of the Pacific Rim & the Americas. Fragrant medium & dark roast blend balances 85% dark chocolate bitters & deep almond tones w/ a soft caramel & citrus sweetness…  Free range, artisanal, hand-crafted, cage-free, organic, buy-local-in-every-sip I’m sure. Or blurt out the first thing, without filtering, what really hits your taste buds to the inquiring barista: pencil shavings! The reply: nailed it! 

There are probably eleven words I have written w/out being under the influence of coffee. Those, I threw away. Then fired up the grinder, measured the dose, tamped with a weighted tamper, timed the eighteen Mississippi pour, frothed the milk with that tssst sound not roiling, debated with myself to add sugar (raw, cane, brown, packaged seductively in volumes just above essential, now that I don’t have the metabolism I used to and don’t hit the tennis courts with the fervor of my youth when I dreamed of not actually playing on the pro tour, but on the satellite tour, eternally trying to qualify for televised events, sans officials, ball boys/girls, endorsements, branding on shirtsleeves, my own line of cat gut, calling foot faults on my opponent, journaling in cheap hotels to at least salvage the hope of selling my memoir, which I would have tarted up to bring a gravitas to an otherwise ecru life, then getting busted for it, especially after the probable Oprah endorsement and the subsequent having to go on her show and cow tow and cry, orbiting the actual tournaments probably due to never having been given a scholarship in college, made to walk-on twice, not even as good as Chrissy Evert’s older brother, who was on our team, and echoed in bearing and demeanor her complaint of an overbearing father, and he never made the bigs, so why should I think to set the bar that high, and obviously never set it as high as the satellite tour) or just focus on the sweetness of the creme, the pleasing design of latte art, the first sip battling with morning breath or mint toothpaste, but by the third running the morning, it’s tastes, its sounds, its motions, including the distraction of chickens now apoplectic to be let out of their coop having beaks in each others’ asses in cramped quarters all night, down to the last sip, where if I didn’t add sugar, at this point I wished I did, for the syrupy grit, crust you have to pry off with your tongue amid a desperate exhaled effort amplified by the cup being just shallow enough to reward prescience, as I’m not a fan of too much milk either what with the lack of tennis these days, or jogging, dodge ball, ellipsis training, yoga, or joining what was the regular Sunday peloton in going out of our way to slow down traffic on country roads by riding three abreast, taking turns in the lead, pulling the other cyclists through gale & wet appropriately greased to fend off chafing.

I haven’t noticed any side effects.

Meet you at 7.30am this Sunday, Austin. Lance will lead the peloton. You may try to lead the peloton, but Lance will lead the peloton. We’ll discuss then, does cycling make you a better maths?

Well I lied about the peloton. Maybe that’s a side effect. Or maybe Lance taught me the finer points of saying one thing and meaning another. I thought I was quit with him when I threw my yellow armband in the trash. But Lance, I can’t quit you and your fierce competitive keep Austin weird via stealthy blood and relentless tweets in the face of all facts to the contrary. Although I infrequently cycle, and don’t measure my food, it would make for better maths if I did both, but certainly keep the ticker up to snuff and give me the chance to observe phi in nature, you know that special number found by dividing a line into two parts so that the longer part divided by the smaller part is also equal to the whole length divided by the longer part or as is often illustrated, the extended, curling inward tongue of a frog into the smallest box? Or let’s just cut to the lingua franca of the protractor-carrying set: a/b = (a+b)/a = 1.6180339887498948420… which has always confused me, as does pi, since the digits go on and on, theoretically into infinity. How are these open-ended figures in any way handy? I always thought math was wrangling a balanced and fixed notion on a quantity, but perhaps the math folks trip us up with the equations that actually work out, so that they can grab a good cup o’ joe, stand in semi-circles and watch the big machines peta-flopping.

You have to figure that on more than one occasion this witnessing one thousand trillion floating point operations per second, in an effort, among other things to get to the end of phi and pi resulted in worship or at least a little pocket pool. In other words, perhaps math is not about solving anything. It’s about embracing beauty.

So does that mean that maths or poetry is needed in the design of chicken bridges?

When the old truss bridge collapsed with the 1950 Studebaker truck full of chickens riding it down or as the historical society puts it, the bridge:  gave up on its promise to provide a safe passage over the river and chickens could be seen flapping down the Haw for miles, I think the math of engineers met it’s match or at least poetically illustrated their suspect= division. Is that part of the grand design? I don’t know, but have been told if you are going to put in underneath the bridge and canoe the Haw, keep the river to the right, not to avoid cannibals, but rocks, and the backwash and industrial detritus underneath? It was a one-lane bridge so I always imagined James Dean and teen coming of age in terms of the moniker, but the Internet set me straight. They used to place rows of Halloween pumpkins on the bridge and people around the county and some number of interlopers would come see the spectacle. There wasn’t much traffic, so after an evening of many whiskeys, one could lay down on the warm asphalt and check on the progress of Cassiopeia or Betelgeuse, which contributed statistically to a time when more people per capita died in North Carolina than any other state in the US from being run-over in their sleep. The Army Corp of Engineers gussied it all up with cement and widened it a few years back, in iambic pentameter lockstep no doubt, which paved the way for progress: a community of car-poolers, golfers, people with a pattern of ducks repeating on their britches. The annual autumnal display has moved down river to Bynum and their bridge and so the 10,000 foot view of it all is probably a dodecahedron.

It’s always the car-poolers and golfers, don’t you find?

Yeah, I guess I was a little flip and redundant and hypocritical in my last answer. I don’t mind car-pooling per se, and the notion of keeping our carbon footprints down is something that just seems required at this point. I just don’t care for 5 guys piling into an SUV and almost running me over when I go to my mailbox. In the country, taking one’s time and keeping a hand on the top of the steering wheel to be able to wave to a neighbor (any passing car) is what I grew up with. And golf certainly is a polarizing notion inside and outside the universe of golfers. It takes up a lot of geography and summons a clubby, exclusive endeavor. I golf. A lot. And have tried taking the perspective that it is me walking the labyrinth in an effort to slay the minotaur, which turns out to be myself. It’s rhythmic concentration and being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason. When I golf with others who may not view the game exactly this way, but at least don’t focus on score by adjusting bad lies, proclaiming their better rounds when the present is going badly, throwing their equipment as the source of their misery, that it can feel almost transcendental. It is also the only sport that I know of where you can actually do something that a professional can do. I’ll never be able to throw a 90 mph fastball, but I have had a hole-in-one, which no golfer in the world could have bettered for that particular hole at that particular time or ever. Of course I have thrown my club. I have worn clownish outfits. And I have kicked a ball out of divot. More than once. So there you go.

Golf as mimesis?

One of instructions always handed down in trying to play better golf is: don’t think. Or as Bobby Jones supposedly said: Hit ‘em hard, they’ll land somewhere. Both easier said than done. It’s actually amazing how many thoughts can go through your head in the short time it takes to swing a golf club. So I don’t think what I’m doing when I play golf is resembling anything else. It’s hard enough all by itself. It’s why people go to the range and practice. I’ve heard that it takes 10,000 swings for your muscles to remember a shot. Muscle memory better than the brain’s directions. I do see that I gravitate to things I seem to have a natural affinity for. Those include other rhythmic, concentrated things like juggling, drumming, writing poems. All best done when remaining in the moment and not thinking of result. Also easy to say and hard to do. Coffee helps on the concentrating part. Not so helpful on the rhythm part.

Perhaps Ty Webb was a poet.

Yes. No doubt. A flute without holes, is not a flute. A doughnut without a hole, is a danish. He also taught a generation how to properly shoot tequila.

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