I first encountered Dsida Jeno’s “Poem of Darkness” on my friend rr’s blog frizzyLogic. Like rr — who, at our bloggers’ confab in Montreal last spring, turned out to have some rather strong notions about what constitutes a proper cup of coffee — I love the central image of the poem:
But tell me: have you ever let
a snow-white sugar-cube soak up
dark liquid, dipped in the bitter night
of coffee in its cup?
Or watched how the dense liquid,
so surely, so insidiously,
will seep up through the white cube’s
pure, crystalline body?
Just so the night seeps into you,
slowly rising, the smells
of night and of the grave all through
your veins, fibres, cells,
until one dank brown evening,
so steeped in it, you melt and sink –
to sweeten, for some unknown god,
his dark and bitter drink.
This morning, quite by chance, I’ve discovered three more creative efforts inspired by coffee. Let me present them in the reverse order of their discovery.
First, a bit of music. What ganja is to reggae and alcohol to the blues, coffee is to speed- or death metal (sometimes also called, tellingly, black metal). Here’s a part-American, part-Scandanavian band existing somewhere on the cusp between fact and fiction called Dethclok, with their tender tribute to Columbian Supremo:
According to the Wikipedia, durning Dethclok’s performance of this song at a charity show, as a gimmick, “several searing hot coffee and cream pitchers [were] … poured on the crowd, melting their skin off.”
Well, frankly, that’s what you get if you don’t drink shade-grown, organic, fair trade coffee. Coffee doesn’t have to kill.
In fact, it turns out there’s now an entire blog — and a pretty good one — devoted to Coffee and Conservation. The author describes him/herself as a Michigan ornithologist and coffee drinker. The most useful feature of the blog for casual consumers is its reviews of individual shade-grown coffees, many of them also organic and fair trade certified. And from the latest post I learned this rather startling news:
[A recent scientific paper] details 103 species in the genus Coffea: 41 species in Africa, 59 in Madagascar, and three in the Mascarene Islands; no naturally-occurring Coffea species are found outside of these three areas, and no species is shared between the three areas.
While most of the paper is of interest only to botanists, one aspect is quite striking. Over 70% of coffee species can be categorized as threatened using World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List definitions:
- 14 species (13.6%) are Critically Endangered,
- 35 species (33.9%) are Endangered, and
- 23 species (24.2%) are Vulnerable.
- An additional 13 species (13.7%) are Near Threatened.
This has me bouncing off the walls with alarm. It’s not just jaguars and mot-mots that are in trouble when cloud forest habitat is destroyed to make way for (among other things) coffee plantations. Throughout Africa and Madagascar, wild coffee itself is at risk. I guess this must be what Dethclok had in mind with the final line of their ditty: “Coffee kills coffee.” SAVE THE COFFEE!
Whew. Must calm down. Maybe it’s time to re-read a poem by Tomas Tranströmer, translated by the Scottish poet Robin Fulton. I got a copy of The Great Enigma: New Collected Poems for Christmas, and am working my way slowly through it, reading from back to front in small, daily doses immediately following my morning cup o’ joe. This poem originally appeared in 1962 in a book called (in English) The Half-Finished Heaven.
The black coffee they serve outdoors
among tables and chairs gaudy as insects.
filled with the same strength as Yes and No.
It’s carried out from the gloomy kitchen
and looks into the sun without blinking.
In the daylight a dot of beneficent black
that quickly flows into a pale customer.
It’s like the drops of black profoundness
sometimes gathered up by the soul,
giving a salutary push: Go!
Inspiration to open your eyes.