Cappuchini with skim milk and brown sugar.
My favorite place to get coffee in Pittsburgh is Voluto’s on Penn Avenue in Garfield. I live in the neighborhood, and I also teach creative writing across the street at a rehab center, so it’s convenient, which is why I first started going there. It’s a safe, quiet place to sit in the mornings before heading across the street to work with those who are struggling to find their own safe places. Hemingway would have called it a “clean, well-lighted place.”
The coffee is excellent, especially the cappuccino, just the right mix of earthy, fresh-ground espresso beans and warm frothed milk, and that’s another reason I’m fond of this place. But I also appreciate that each cup is lovingly and expertly topped by exquisite latte art. The barista, almost always the same guy when I’m there, takes such care in making each drink, cleaning the espresso machine carefully, warming the cup, tamping down the grinds, frothing the milk, pouring the black liquid into the cup as if it were an expensive liquor. He gives laser-like attention to painting the milky art on top—often a heart, or tree or milky echoes of hearts and trees—in gorgeous detail. The result is often so stunning I don’t want to mess it up by stirring sugar into it, or drinking it. But of course I do. And the hearts and trees disappear on my lips and tongue.
My spirit feels nourished by watching someone take this kind of care with such a small thing as a cup of coffee, and I am reminded when I watch the barista build the cappuccino that life is full of such small duties that could be inspiring if we took more care with them. I reach into my pocket and finger my latest AA chip, a fingering that always brings to mind the organization’s brilliant one-day-at-a-time slogan. I like to think of it as one-coffee-at-a-time.
Sometimes I see friends writing here, sometimes I write myself, and my colleague and I who teach in the rehab center sometimes plan our lessons here. We are building our own inner spaces whose art might warm and delight for a few moments. We the wounded are looking for a drink that doesn’t numb but rather wakes us to the world.
Sheryl St. Germain is author of 7 books of poetry and prose. Her most recent book, Navigating Disaster: Sixteen Essays of Love and a Poem of Despair, was released in September 2012.