Last night was the Last Supper reading, put on by Fishspace and my friends Emily and Junior. Each reader was assigned a course, and read something that in some way represented that course. I was the last course, coffee and petit fours. Here is what I read:
I am obsessed with William Kentridge -- because William Kentridge is obsessed with coffee. He hasn’t told me this directly, but it comes through in his art work. His espresso cup is his telescope, for example, and then his mocha machine his rocket ship. His saucer is his moon. He uses the word percolate to talk about the formation of ideas. Then he called the blank page an antagonist, and I knew we were kindred. More than kindred: I wanted to have his babies. Our babies would have the best ideas, I thought while sipping on my own soy latte on a particularly good feeling morning when the wind was fretting about something but not taking it out on me. I was in the back yard of a good café and I let the fantasy have its way with me. My Kentridge babies would be cultured and long-nosed and fat. They would be the protagonists in the minimalist theater that was the blank page of our lives. They would be fed their milk in espresso cups, have mobiles made of negative space, clothes of cut up paper. My Kentridge babies, little fragments of new narrative, would percolate their way through the world.
It turned out that this good feeling morning was a morning of good ideas. My next idea, after the one about me and Kentridge producing offspring, was to try to remember every cup of coffee I had consumed in my entire life. Good idea, I thought to myself, because when I was drinking coffee in a back garden somewhere and the sun was smooching on me and the wind was feeling me up, I always thought my ideas were good.
I scribbled some things in my Moleskin. I wrote a note to Piero, because Piero gave me my first cup of coffee ever. Everyone was named Piero in those days, but this Piero was special because he gave me my first. I remembered the class rooms with columns, the chandeliers, the espresso makers fritzing in the marble hallways. Thanks, Piero, I wrote, you gave me my first. Thanks Piero, you got me hooked. You threw out a fishline and the bait was this tiny espresso cup and then I was at your feet each morning, begging for more. The second cup of coffee was my best friend’s first cup, and I did like a momma bird does: put some in my mouth and gave it to the best friend like I was spitting up. Yum, she said. Super good first sip. I was proud to have shared something because sharing something is always honorable and sharing something with a best friend means love.
The third cup was with Sarah at one of those classy places where they make a leaf in your drink with the milk foam. This was when we were learning the hierarchy of cafes and also the hierarchy of words. And Sarah told me: lets do the kind of work that is not for work work but for lungs work -- and she was so refreshingly sincere that the coffee tasted smoother and more confident. The fourth and fifth and sixth cups were with my father and those cups were all about patience and learning to draw. And the million cups with my mother were so bright and agro I felt like the world was growing inside of me and then crumbling because I wanted so much of it and the cups with my sisters were charged with the electrical current that runs between bodies that know each other and the year’s worth of cups with Forrest were paired with the fireworks of new love and those cups rocket-shipped to the heart.
After that there were too many cups to count. At the café table, my mind spiraled outward and I closed my Moleskin; I was disgusted with my inability to sufficiently record my thoughts in words. If I could bottle all the coffees I've ever had into one bottle, I thought, that bottle would have a bottleneck the size of an ancient sea. And convening at that bottleneck would be all the people I had ever drank coffee with, sitting in rowboats painted green or orange, taking sips from ceramic cups of all sizes. The Italians would be there with their pinkies in the air; their cups so small you feared they finish them too fast, that you wouldn’t have enough time to talk. The Argentines would be there, trying to be like the Italians but, insecure, would have accidentally let the water run too long through their coffee grinds and ended up with a thin, bitter liquid that they’d abandon for an equally thin pastry shaped like a crescent moon. The Chileans would be there with their Nescafe and the Mexicans with their café con leche and the French with their French press and the Turkish with all that shit in their teeth from the grime of the grinds, which was actually quite charming, considering they were used to it. Then there would be my American friends, trying to steady themselves in their rickety boats, taking notes about the exotic nature of said rickety boats in their own Moleskins while sipping on grande extra hot things that cost four ninety five because of the possibility that they were organic.
You see, I drink coffee to see the whole world drinking coffee: to remember that we are all in something together. Because upon the first sip -- we’re all equals. We're all tap dancing with the jitters, we've each unfolded our newspaper like a map, and we're ready to zoom around a bit, see who else is up at this hour, check out each other's brews. But here’s the catch: without the coffee you can’t see all the others drinking coffee, because the only way you can know that the whole world is having a cup, the only possible way you can begin to see something that huge, that broad, that universal, the only way you can turn your sympathy into empathy and your microcosm into a macro one, is with the fantastic mental surge that comes with coffee, that cosmic caffeinated moment where the firsts and lasts come together, where the bottleneck of the ancient sea breaks and the rowboats are sailing in unison gracefully, where your coffee cup morphs into a beating heart and your saucer is the same as a moon, where all the Pieros bleed into one and all the newspaper maps lead to the same place, and I’m not trying to get all fair trade on you now but where the importance of process and justice begins to matter and you see it mattering because in your big caffeinated moment you’re understanding where that coffee came from, all those ethical/moral/socially responsible issues like how much did that coffee picker make off your cup and it was probably not enough and you will try to fix this through your creative practice and through your own awareness and avid attention...
but then with the fade of the jolt of the caffeinated frenzy you drop back into your spot at this one particular round table at this one particular café. Kentridge, you remember, said that although he had hoped to escape the confines of his studio through the telescope of his espresso cup, he had actually ended up still stuck inside it, looking out through the window of the rocket ship, staring at a sheet of black paper pinned to the studio wall.
In the end, Kentridge and I are cuddling on a Sunday morning, waking up from our respective percolating dreams. He sighs, turning away from me sadly. I don’t deserve to be an artist, he says to the universe, because everything he says is to the universe. I am saddened by his lack of confidence, because nothing is sadder than a lack of confidence in someone you love. But then I remember something hopeful. Then lets drink coffee, I whisper into his big old ear, knowing he will understand what I mean to say, which is that the coffee is the same as art.