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Poetry Friday: "Decaf" by Sharon McCartney

for and against, Sharon McCartneyFor Poetry Friday, we've decided to calm down after an emotional week with some decaf, courtesy of Sharon McCartney. "Decaf," from her lovely collection for and against, took second place in Prairie Fire’s Bliss Carman Poetry Competition in 2005, and was a finalist in Arc’s Poem of the Year Contest in 2004.

Reached via social media, McCartney had this to say about the thought process that went into "Decaf": 

Like most of my poems, "Decaf" is a true story. I used to keep my ground coffee in the freezer. I had the real stuff and decaf (for friends--I rarely drank it) in similar bags side by side. For about three days, I made decaf for myself in the morning without knowing it. I could not figure out what was wrong with me at first! I kept telling people that I felt like I hadn't woken up in days. And then, when I realized what I had done, I made a pot of real coffee and everything was okay again. It was so good! As if the world was all new again.

That feeling made me think of a poem by Charlie Smith, a great American poet, "The World as Will and Representation," from his collection Heroin and Other Poems. That poem ends with the speaker seeing a beautiful woman get out of a cab. Then the speaker realizes that the woman is his wife. I wanted to capture that sense of wonder and glory and joy. And redemption as well. God I love coffee. And btw, my sons refuse to let me forget how bad those decaf days were--not only for me but for everyone in close proximity to me!


Like donning a tiara of nails, those days when I brewed
decaf by mistake, pain in my skull, something ungraspably
awry, as if a child were suffocating in a van I couldn’t open
or I woke to blue paint peeling like burnt skin, curtains in
soggy heaps, the cat moaning. I thought the end was coming.
After three days, I checked the labels, my ballpoint scrawl,
frost-faded, grabbed the right beans, Kenya AA, 18% cream
from the Mennonites, and the ice-jam of horror in my bones melted,
the skittish lights on the walking bridge winked out, the sun,
a pink fist, rose resolutely over the Irving storage facility,
transfusing the soapy Saint John. I kissed my dog on the muzzle,
puzzling him, elated, like seeing a vision of Christ in firelight
or the Virgin's tears falling from granite, synapses rewired,
and systems up — not just coffee, but redemption, the troubled
teenager relenting, asking for you, or the surgeon glancing up
from the chart, saying no, we were wrong, it's nothing at all.
Happiness distilled, enhanced, a dark blend of joy, like glimpsing
a handsome stranger arcing an axe under cedars, splitting stumps
into kindling, the animal exhalation each time contact is made,
the blade bites deeper, and realizing you are married to him.



Decaf Goose Lane Editions Poem Poetry Friday Sharon McCartney

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