Barista

By Caroline Johnson
Henry says the Lakota called it black medicine.
I can imagine Black Elk drinking from a gourd,
huddling around a teepee with a peace pipe 
sometime in July when the cherries are ripe.

Henry looks at each customer with green eyes 
full of gourmet hot chocolate and caramel mochas.  
He moves his arms across the espresso machine,
steaming milk, whirling words with a smile.

His eyes sail through you like a windjammer, 
as if you’ve been caught by a cool island breeze.
He hums as he scrubs stubborn stains off of soup
kettles, stocks the pantry, or pours steamed milk.

He shakes his head and his braids rustle round him.  
I work the register, exchanging money for drinks.
The smell of French Roast perfumes the air.
You can hear the crackle of beans as they grind.

The line is long:  a mother with a stroller, a boy 
in a wheelchair, two ladies with Gucci bags.  
Two wealthy ladies talk of sconces in their new 
living rooms, a young couple orders hot chocolate,

and a lone man with dark black hair stands at the back
of the café wearing a T-shirt, his arms exposed to reveal 
a green tattoo:  “I-R-A-Q” neatly printed across his skin.
Henry talks to them all as they huddle around, waiting

for their black medicine.  Henry makes everything look easy.  
He can do three things at once.  Yet Henry’s not easy.  
He’s just trying to figure life out before it passes him by.

--published in Highland Park Poetry, Wilda Morris’s blog, and Winnetka Living
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