Coffee and Poetry
by Jonathan Yungkans

funny how black coffee
even at 17 was my life
     dark and hot enough
to burn without warmth
on fingers or tongue
once it cooled
                         its color
stayed past sunup
in breaths that ticked
     hours ingested
breathed back into air
anything but straight
like all the bent nails
     screws that in a few
clue past steaming mug
where life would take me
except lower and empty
and never good enough

that was when the words
came      sounds of them
that turned and combined
like all the classical LPs
checked out of the library
and blared over lunchtime
in the journalism lab
the other students there
in the back room taking
cover from the onslaught
that built in sentences
     paragraphs      spilled
into poems my parents
didn’t understand
had been accountants
     carpenters my data-
processing dad      no writers
     certainly not a poet
yet past the end of a cup
what I could finally taste

IMAGE: “Coffee and Music” by Nina Prommer. Prints available at

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: At 17, after struggling with everything my family did well, I found my niche in something none of them had tried, thanks in large part to an English teacher who saw some potential and convinced me to enter a national writing contest. I was still a miserable teenager (most of the rest of that year is a blur that pains me deeply to remember) but at least one who gained some direction, even if it wasn’t an immediately gainful one.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jonathan Yungkans is a Los-Angeles-based poet, writer and photographer. Growing up in Gardena, California, not far from the Pacific Ocean and at the time still predominantly Japanese-American, left him with three things—an intense love for the sea, a deep appreciation for cultures other than his own and the outlook (and resulting questions) of an outsider aware that he didn’t quite fit into his surroundings. Subsequent years as an ESL teacher and a publications editor for a multi-cultural Christian ministry only added to the latter two of these. His works have appeared in Lime Hawk, Poetry/LA, Twisted Vine Literary Journal, and other publications.