Coffee and the Existentialists
from Some of These Days
by Robert King
Come see King in person June 14 at Conundrum in RiNo!
Life, this morning, is like trying to fold a newspaper in the breeze,
maybe waiting for a bus or at a sidewalk table,
where I am, maybe in Paris or North Dakota,
where I am, Jean Paul Sartre or someone climbing off
a box car across the street as a train slows through town.
The pages flutter as I try to contain the temporary news,
print aging so quickly it will yellow into an antique document
announcing World War II or even, in 1980, the death of Sartre.
The guy from the train, gray hair and a thick jacket, goes inside,
comes out with a glass of water, sits at the next table, contemplates.
In the 1950s a high school girlfriend’s uncle
back from Paris told us how the existentialists danced,
worth a course in philosophy, good for a year of thought.
I continue doing my origami in the light tornado
of the cafe’s corner and another arrives, a cyclist
with a helmet we’d have laughed at in the 1950s,
locks his bike, goes in, comes out with coffee, sits.
In khaki shorts, he has a tattoo of the earth,
inexplicably, on his leg. So three men have themselves
at three tables in the sun, and I’m still trying to read,
the news subsiding to tatters of gossip in my hands,
buckling, in a gust around the corner, like a large bird
whose wings I’m trying to subdue, remembering
riding my bike, not remembering riding a free freight,
and wondering what I thought my purpose was.
Years later, years, when I finally got to Paris
and sat in a new chair at Sartre’s Deux Magots cafe
all I knew to say in French was “I want” and
"I’d like" so I sat there, wanting and liking everything
except later, standing at Sartre’s and de Beauvoir’s grave.
The cyclist says nothing, sips his coffee, and the hobo,
maybe, leaves to follow the earth, his plastic water glass
sparkling like fire in the air of the increasingly lonely corner.
The existentialists, if you want to know, danced straight
from the hips up, motionless, their feet and legs going crazy.
At least this is what Uncle Ed told us, his hands
fluttering, fingers impersonating their feet
like skittering birds, like newspaper pages
flying loose across the street, the tracks pointing
both ways, defining themselves by their existence.
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