Ms. Anne hummed something that seemed an unlikely mashup of “Deck the Halls” and “Come On’a My House.” Despite that, I knew the day was good and that Ms. Anne was not in a funk the way she was last year after Christmas. “How was your Christmas holiday? Your family visit go OK?”
“Yes, yes. We had a lovely time. Even the priest seemed to celebrate in a heartfelt way.”
“That’s great, Ms. Anne. End of the year is here. What shall we do?”
“I have an idea. Maybe a brilliant idea. Well, at least a good idea,” she said. “I’m going to commission art that interprets a poem. Not a montage or collage and not just any poem. A poetic painting. What do you think?”
“I guess that could work. There’s a lot of poetry that celebrates nature and we certainly have the wall space. Have you talked to an artist?”
“I didn’t say anything about nature. No, I’m thinking of a poem that speaks across generations and is appropriate to this coffee shop. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”
I didn’t know if Ms. Anne knew that I read Prufrock once every year or so. An English teacher at the old military high school introduced the poem to us when I was in the ninth grade. I began scanning through remembered fragments of the poem.”I’ll bet I know the line you want, Ms. Anne! ‘I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.’ Am I right?”
She laughed. “That is correct! I know an artist who would create a lovely tribute to Eliot and to the measure of our days that would fit beautifully here in the shop.”
“But don’t you think the poem is a bit sexist, reflecting the world as it once was, Ms. Anne? ‘In the room the women come and go, speaking of Michelangelo.’ And don’t you wonder how it speaks of aging?
“I don’t wonder at all. Have you ever read the poem and paid attention to it? It is about aging and a bit of sexuality and it offers a glimpse of mortality. I love that poem. Eliot may be out of style—I don’t know who is now considered a literary giant these days, but I’ve always had Eliot near the top. And if this painting can inspire people to read Eliot, that will be my reward. And besides, don’t we all measure our lives with coffee spoons?”
She was moving on to a new customer as I remembered other lines from Prufrock:
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.