My Uncle’s Favorite Coffee Shop

By Naomi Shihab Nye b. 1952
Serum of steam rising from the cup,
what comfort to be known personally by Barbara,   
her perfect pouring hand and starched ascot,   
known as the two easy eggs and the single pancake,   
without saying.
What pleasure for an immigrant—
anything without saying.

My uncle slid into his booth.
I cannot tell you—how I love this place.
He drained the water glass, noisily clinking his ice.   
My uncle hailed from an iceless region.
He had definite ideas about water drinking.
I cannot tell you—all the time. But then he’d try.

My uncle wore a white shirt every day of his life.   
He raised his hand against the roaring ocean   
and the television full of lies.
He shook his head back and forth
from one country to the other
and his ticket grew longer.
Immigrants had double and nothing all at once.   
Immigrants drove the taxis, sold the beer and Cokes.   
When he found one note that rang true,   
he sang it over and over inside.
Coffee, honey.
His eyes roamed the couples at other booths,   
their loose banter and casual clothes.
But he never became them.

Uncle who finally left in a bravado moment   
after 23 years, to live in the old country forever,   
to stay and never come back,
maybe it would be peaceful now,
maybe for one minute,
I cannot tell you—how my heart has settled at last.   
But he followed us to the sidewalk
saying, Take care, Take care,
as if he could not stand to leave us.

I cannot tell—

how we felt
to learn that the week he arrived,
he died. Or how it is now,
driving his parched streets,
feeling the booth beneath us as we order,   
oh, anything, because if we don’t,
nothing will come.

Naomi Shihab Nye, “My Uncle’s Favorite Coffee Shop” from Fuel. Copyright © 1998 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Used by the permission of BOA Editions Ltd., www.boaeditions.org.

Source: Fuel (BOA Editions Ltd., 1998)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Naomi Shihab Nye b. 1952

Subjects Family & Ancestors, Living, History & Politics, Social Commentaries, Relationships, Death

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Naomi Shihab Nye

Biography

Naomi Shihab Nye was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1952. Her father was a Palestinian refugee and her mother an American of German and Swiss descent, and Nye spent her adolescence in both Jerusalem and San Antonio, Texas. Her experience of both cultural difference and different cultures has influenced much of her work. Known for poetry that lends a fresh perspective to ordinary events, people, and objects, Nye has said that, . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Family & Ancestors, Living, History & Politics, Social Commentaries, Relationships, Death

Poetic Terms Free Verse

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.