Where I’m Reading: Milk Bar


It’s Saturday morning, and so I’m sitting in a coffee shop which is in relative close proximity to my apartment. I’ve been going to coffee shops on Saturday mornings for many years now. It’s sort of like my church, or rather, synagogue (sorry, mom!).

My routine is pretty straightforward: I’ll order a cup of coffee, and I’ll flirt briefly with the cute barista. Then I’ll take out my spiral notebook and I’ll write for one whole page, by hand. Afterwards, I’ll read: poetry, to be specific, and if the muses or some particular something that I’ve read moves me, I’ll write some more. Novels and memoirs are for lengthy subway commutes, or weekday post-work evenings, or lazy Sunday afternoons. But Saturday morning is my spiritual time, my centering session, and I reserve those hours for the reading (and perhaps writing) of poems.

I’m going to let this next line be its own paragraph: I have always wanted to be, and in certain
lofty moments sometimes allow myself to call myself, a poet.

The particular coffee shop I’ve been Saturdaying at for the last year or so is called Milk Bar. It’s on Vanderbilt and Prospect Place, in the affluent and gentrified neighborhood of Prospect Heights, Brooklyn (sorry, everyone!). It’s owned by an Aussie, and has the avocado-topped toast to prove it. Before this past year I Saturdayed at ‘sNice, a vegan-friendly coffee house on 5th Ave and 3rd Street in Park Slope, back when I lived there, when that version of my life was still occurring. I worked my way through some great books of poems at ‘sNice: Matthew Zapruder’s Come on All You Ghosts comes to mind, and Tony Hoagland’s latest, Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty, as well as Jennifer L. Knox’s hilariously-titled sophomore effort, Drunk By Noon. I think I wrote some okay poems of my own there, too. There was a cute girl who worked at ‘sNice, and I’d see her every Saturday. She wore bandanas of varying colors, which I silently interpreted like mood rings: red meant she was feeling feisty that morning, black meant back-the-fuck-off. I never learned her name. She had a boyfriend, I know that much. But that’s alright; I had a girlfriend of my own at the time. The barista was happy and in love with her guy, and yet – as I overheard her tell her co-worker one morning – she often dreamt about leaving him, just to see what else was out there. Boy, we sure did have a lot in common!

At Milk Bar I’ve read some doozies: Marie Howe’s What The Living Do knocked me out, and left me feeling grateful to even be alive. David Kirby’s The Ha-Ha cracked my shit up; I ended up turning to him when my mood was down, to get me back in better spirits. And I read some more Tony Hoagland, too (what can I say, I dig his wares). One time I was reading Hoagland’s What Narcissism Means To Me when one of the cute baristas asked me what I was reading. I turned to size her up: full head of curly hair, cute face, great style. A nice Semitic nose to match my own. I pictured our someday wedding, our children’s bar and bat mitzvahs, how happy this would make my parents. I showed her the book. “You’ll have to let me borrow it sometime,” she said. You can borrow my heart, I replied silently in the corner of my mind.

I ended up crushing on that particular barista for a little while, in an embarrassingly intense way. Eventually I asked her out, but she had a boyfriend (this is what she told me, anyways), so we kept it cordial and unrequited, until at last, after a few months, I was able to finally move on (thank you, art student from Champaign Illinois!). The barista and I, we’re just friends now, in a waitress-patron kind of way. I did a poetry reading a few months ago at a bar a few blocks down on Vanderbilt, and the curly-haired barista said she’d definitely be there, but she didn’t show. That’s okay. We’re not that good of friends, after all. Plus I wouldn’t have wanted her to hear me read all those poems, or at least, not the ones I wrote about her.

There’s an old man that comes in to Milk Bar on Saturday mornings, every week, just like me. He sits alone at a two-person table and writes postcards, presumably to his loved ones who live far away (like mine). He’s not married, or at least I don’t think he is; doesn’t wear a ring or anything like that. He, too, flirts with the baristas, but he’s harmless, because he’s old, maybe seventy-five or so. I wonder how many years this guy has spent at coffee shops on Saturdays, writing postcards to loved ones. Sometimes when I look at him, sitting there all alone, it feels like I’m looking at my future, and I get a little sad. But then I look more closely. He smiles a lot. And he’s still got the gift of the gab. So it doesn’t all look that bad.

Josh Lefkowitz is a writer and performer. He lives in Brooklyn and is currently working on a book. More from this author →