I like coffee cups.
The woman (rest her soul) who used to live here collected salt and pepper shakers. We walked into the house on the first day that it was ours – empty, filled only with sunlight and shadows – and as we moved through the rooms, the cupboards, the closets, we began finding the shakers here and there. A Santa and Mrs. Claus pair in the broom closet, a white duck and mallard set back in nook of the basement bar, and – in a line above the kitchen cupboards – a quiet cache. There were porcelain bell peppers (yellow and red), porcelain wedding guests (white tux and black tux), porcelain shoes (both brown but one with three holes, the other with two), and more and more and more quietly sitting in a gaggle on the dusty boards above the kitchen. Quiet. History lives in the quiet. Ghosts linger in sunlight and shadows. And in everything in between. Over the years, we’ve found more salt-and-pepper shakers, sent them off to the thrift store, given them as white elephant gifts. (But even the gifted shakers wind up at the thrift store when, on a rainy afternoon, a parent who’s exasperated by a houseful of clutter, starts packing life’s unnecessities into old cardboard boxes). And there, at thrift stores, strangers have picked them up. Or strangers haven’t picked them up and the store has disposed of them to make room for more necessary items. (Do we need salt and pepper shakers? Here, insert the philosophy of pleasure and pain, poverty and plenty… tsk tsk. And life without salt – what is that?)
If I had time or space to start a collection, it would be of coffee cups. I sit and, for a while, the earliest of mornings is mine – empty, filled only with the dark and young sun. In that babbling light, everything is young – hundred-year maples, birds (who only learned flight last spring), the lineage of birds (that only bequeathed flight last spring), and myself (unhampered by voices outside of my own). I sit and the only accoutrement that joins me is a coffee cup. Porcelain. Some of them have creepy clown faces on them. Some have hyperbolized claims about what happens to the boss’s demands that come before the first dose of caffeine. Some have dad-jokey puns about music or work. They’ve all grown worn along the edges. I pulled a cup out this morning and saw how the blue field of the porcelain had grown its own white mustache around the mouth of the mug. What was it that made the blue blue? Ink, paint, some other material? And where had all of that blue gone? Probably down the gullet, along with the hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands of cups of coffee. What is it doing to my insides? I look at the bottom of the mug. Made in China. Hmmm. Not really sure. But the mug is mine. There are chips along the bottom where, undoubtedly, it’s been clinked against the concrete floor of the shed as I’ve picked it up and set it back down, mid-oil-change. The picture itself (this one a creepy clown – an old family joke) is faded and, like a favorite pair of jeans, is easy on my sensibilities.
I love coffee cups.
The day’s moving on. There are dishes that will need cleaning. Dry them, jam-pack them into the cupboards. And then, bigger work – wood that needs cutting, hauling, a quick mow of the grass, and then on to the factory that grinds things out for the world to handle and use and throw away. There will be questions about productivity that always turn the stomach. There will be reports printed into the pulp of hundred-year maples. Reports on pulp. Created only to be thrown away. Temporary record of the lineage of humanity.
I look into the belly of the cup in front of me – less than half left. A third. A quarter. It’s grown cold. But that’s ok. It had been heated in this cup. The porcelain knew the motion of the black liquid and, from its sides, I can still smell it; I taste it now as I raise the material to my mouth. Someday, I will be buried. And someday, too, this cup will be gone, lost for(this side of)ever in the back corner of a shed otherwise stuffed with lawn mowers, snow blowers, old bicycles. Or it will be gone, pushed to the back of a shelf in a thrift store. Or it will be gone, forgotten under a half-felled maple or tossed into a landfill, the cup’s Chinese porcelain fracturing over the cycle of freezes and thaws to join the soil of this mid-American stretch of dirt and lake-sand, the work of weathering as comforting as endless fingers stroking through the grooves of existence until all that is left are the grooves.
from the collection of: d. heidel