None of the men ever get it right,
they dig the coffee tin with rancour,
prise unwilling lids from cans of milk,
slop water into rows of waiting cups.
The morning parade of orders:
Kopi gao, teh-C kosong, Milo peng siew dai
read like a roll call while she holds
court, an unslaked sergeant.
The men hunt for used glasses,
run sugarcane through the press,
collect an arcade of coins, stab
straws into plastic cups.
The men are faithful but forget
that routine is not devotion,
that genius is not godsend,
that watching a street magician
won’t reveal the flick
of her wrist: whip of condensed
milk, a subtle stir, the first
sip always in slow motion.
About the poem: Everyone has his or her go-to kopitiam and favourite way of drinking coffee. It is a time-honored ritual. My preferred order is kopi gao siew dai, and Da Jie over at 238 Coffee in Tiong Bahru Market gets it right every single time. This poem is an ode to her, an unheralded heartland barista. She may not have a beard but she still has the arduous task of ensuring the roast is perfect, the blend is balanced and the queue doesn’t back up to the escalators.