On Coffee and Kentridge

Molly Prentiss

I am obsessed with William Kentridge because William Kentridge is obsessed with coffee. He hasn’t told me this directly, but it comes through in his artwork. His espresso cup is his telescope, for example, and then his mocha machine his rocket ship. His saucer is his moon. He uses the word percolate to talk about the formation of ideas. Then he called the blank page an antagonist, and I knew we were kindred. More than kindred: I wanted to have his babies. Our babies would have the best ideas, I thought while sipping on my own soy latte on a particularly good feeling morning when the wind was fretting about something but not taking it out on me. I was in the back yard of a good café and I let the fantasy have its way with me. My Kentridge babies would be cultured and long-nosed and fat. They would be the protagonists in the minimalist theater that was the blank page of our lives. They would be fed their milk in espresso cups, have mobiles made of negative space, clothes of cut up paper. My Kentridge babies, little fragments of new narrative, would percolate their way through the world. 


It turned out that this good feeling morning was a morning of good ideas. My next idea, after the one about me and Kentridge producing offspring, was to try to remember every cup of coffee I had consumed in my entire life. Good idea, I thought to myself, because when I was drinking coffee in a back garden somewhere and the sun was smooching on me and the wind was feeling me up, I always thought my ideas were good. 

I scribbled some things in my Moleskine. I wrote a note to Piero, because Piero gave me my first cup of coffee ever. Everyone was named Piero in those days, but this Piero was special because he gave me my first. I remembered the classrooms with columns, the chandeliers, the espresso makers fritzing in the marble hallways. Thanks, Piero, I wrote, you gave me my first. Thanks Piero, you got me hooked. You threw out a fish line and the bait was this tiny espresso cup and then I was at your feet each morning, begging for more. The second cup of coffee was my best friend’s first cup, and I did like a momma bird does: put some in my mouth and gave it to the best friend like I was spitting up. Yum, she said. Super good first sip. I was proud to have shared something because sharing something is always honorable and sharing something with a best friend means love.

The third cup was with S. at one of those classy places where they make a leaf in your drink with the milk foam. This was when we were learning the hierarchy of cafés and also the hierarchy of words. And S. told me: lets do the kind of work that is not for work work but for lungs work -- and she was so refreshingly sincere that the coffee tasted smoother and more confident. The fourth and fifth and sixth cups were with my father and those cups were all about patience and learning to draw. And the million cups with my mother were so bright and agro I felt like the world was growing inside of me and then crumbling because I wanted so much of it and the cups with my sisters were charged with the electrical current that runs between bodies that know each other and the year’s worth of cups with my new lover were paired with the fireworks of new love and those cups rocket-shipped to the heart.

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