My first stop is the coffee roasters,
where I am beguiled by names like Coconut Caramel Crunch,
Snickerdoodle Dream and Maple Macadamia Nut
though I gave up drinking flavored coffees years ago.
I settle on the Ethiopian Mocha Harrar, even as Anna,
the teen behind the counter, tells me it’s bitter
when I ask her opinion.
“But my mom likes it. She makes it at home.”
Me, I simply love the sound, Ethiopian Mocha Harrar, exotic,
brimming with richness, so I am off, with a half-pound
just in case Anna is right, gliding into
the orchestrated sprawl of cheeses and freshly cut meats,
honeys and handmade soaps and vegetables
bright and crisp in their earthen coats.
I buy a spread of salmon from Carla, a best-seller she promises
will turn any cracker into an extravagance, and though I almost breeze past
the seafood company, a single shrimp, its plumpness perched
on a tiny fork, reels me in.
It isn’t long before I am considering crab cakes and lobster bisque
and the jovial roundness of Mike, who lets my name
sail off his tongue when I hand him my card, marveling that anyone
would flatten its softness with a long “a.”
At the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern stand, I am fairly giddy,
my gaze roaming over baba ganoush, moussaka, ground chicken
spiced with molasses and pomegranate, cubes
of feta tossed in creamy spinach.
Nine-five percent of it all is gluten-free, I am told
when I ask if the falafel owes its texture to only chickpeas.
Seconds later, Ali is trying to ply me with free pita bread
if I buy more than a pound of palak paneer.
He laughs when I remind him of his short memory and we pick up
the rhythm of an easy banter until he has a new customer
and I walk away after pressing my palm into his.
Everywhere, I look for a name, ask for it, roll
each one into a smile.
I am lavish with my gratitude, swollen with praise.
But my habit is not rooted to this oasis.
I am fervent with Hector, the bank teller who talks
about his large extended family and the dinners that spill
a weekly colossus of chaos and joy,
and with Rita, the postal worker who I greet like an old friend
though I want to cut her off before her requisite litany.
“You know there is nothing hazardous or perishable
in here. First class will suffice.”
She calls me bub, waving to me whenever I walk through the door.
It’s as if I’m running for office, stumping some
essential truth with every hand I shake, every sliver
of some other life
I slip into my own.
Today my mom tells me it’s been two months
since her friend’s daughter went missing.
No one has heard a word.
My kickboxing instructor took her mother to the hospital.
Doctors misdiagnosed a spot on her lung, and four weeks later
she was dead: stage IV cancer.
I think of the father who shot himself after turning his gun
on his family, and the ravaged grandparents, left
to the inconsolable,
of the rampage at the mall and the movie theater,
of time sliced away in a single brutal sweep.
Mine is a song I must trill.
I call them by their names: Mike, Hector, Ali, Rita,
Anna, Jameel, Marvin, Shondah, Lizanne.
In their presence, I pocket the small sun of a smile,
bend toward a blade of laughter, threading kindness
like a charm
so if the train derails or the bomb blows,
if the body is a hidden rupture of cells,
we will make our exit
still in our ears.