“That must have been some cup of coffee!” —Charles Ellik

The coffee spins and I am not the same.
The time in which I move is muddy, turns
around my breath, and steams. As sunlight
came here perfectly, some perfect still returns
and carries new reflections of my eyes
back to my eyes. Oh nature and O soul
of man, your flawed, but linked analogies
exceed my breath. But does this little bowl
of brown, suspended dust in its own deep
demitasse of Turkish grind comprise “me”?
My own reflection blinks away its sleep
and turns. Am I the same? No eye can see
how dust could move to personality—
and yet it moves—to immortality.
What moved the primal dust to me? How do
I say? And since mere dust like me has got
a soul, then I can ask not “What?”, but “Who?”
And likewise ask, “Who made that dust? Has not
The Deep called out to deep? The coffee spins
and I am not the same. How far beyond
all utterance: The Name where it begins.
No ear can hear, no mind can comprehend
(though not the smallest atom stirs or lives
but has its cunning duplicate in mind)
the good God has in store, lavishly gives
and has lovingly, thoughtfully designed.
Wrapped in reflections spinning in clay jars,
the love that moves the sun and other stars.



Daniel Kemper is a systems engineer living in California.

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33 Responses

  1. Cynthia Erlandson

    Wow, Daniel — this is profound! The deep has indeed called out to deep!
    Even though I’m not sure that I grasp everything in it, I sense that there may be a metaphor here comparing our human bodies (“clay jars”), to the coffee cup, and the energy inside of us to the coffee. And I just love the way you parceled out the parts of I Corinthians 2:9 throughout the poem — “No eye can see”, “how far beyond / all utterance”; “No ear can hear, no mind can comprehend”. And the way you used the reflection imagery — and the last line from “Paradiso” — left me truly moved.

    • Daniel Kemper

      Good afternoon Cynthia,
      Such a pleasure to feel all you enjoyed encountering in this poem. Thank you! Definitely working on the extended metaphor that you identify. Parcelling out I COR 2:9 was a big risk. So happy it played well!

  2. Sally Cook

    Dear Daniel —

    Cynthia has pretty much said it all; I appreciate the flow of thought association so similar to the sinuous coffee, pouring into the clay jar, and other symbols of liquidity and of God’s grace. This is a profound and lovely poem by one who never stops reflecting, even when gazing into the crystal ball of his coffee cup.

    • Daniel Kemper

      Hi Sally!
      One effect I was really hoping for was that the parcelling out of I COR 2:9, as Cynthia phrases it, would structurally “infuse” the poem with the goodness the verse carries. I hope to have more poems in this vein worked out in the near future.

  3. Joseph S. Salemi

    Besides the references to 1 Corinthians, the poem seems to allude to the “Kuza Nama” (Book of Pots) section of Khayyam’s Rubaiyat, where human beings are imagined as speaking clay pots. As in this poem, the questions of God, the purpose of human existence, and the theodicy problem are raised by the clay pots.

    • Daniel Kemper

      Prescient. The Rubaiyat was one of the first books I ever owned, but moreso, in a poem I intend to follow this one, one of the Rubaiyat’s lines demanded inclusion. BTW, *Does the coffee ask the barista, ‘why have you made me thus’?*

  4. Margaret Coats

    Let’s not neglect Genesis 3:19 and numerous other references to “dust” in both Testaments. Daniel’s own dust references (starting in lines 9-10) may be more “primal” (lines 13, 15) than those of clay, especially if we note that the man = dust equation first appears (spoken by God) in Adam’s curse. Sometimes in Biblical usage “dust” is a truthful and useful recognition by man of the human condition, but take care when man questions whether and by what power non-human dust acquires a soul–especially whether Turkish coffee at a certain point comprises Daniel’s speaker. God throws this very question back at man, mocking Job (38:38) by asking him if he knows “when was the dust poured on the earth, and the clods fastened together?”

    Let’s also notice that line 14 of the poem quotes Galileo’s reported remark on the motion of the earth. Profound indeed, Daniel. The geocentricity question reopened not many years ago, as recorded in the movie, “The Principle.” Max Tegmark, MIT physicist and cosmologist, the youngest and most attractive of the many talking heads in the movie, declared his conversion to the belief that human beings have a significant place in the universe. Too much to go into here but, Daniel, you deserve great credit for putting this poem together.

    • Daniel Kemper

      Hi Margaret~ Thank you soo much for your extended observations and insights. Turkish style coffee was a very deliberate choice indeed because of the grinds left in it, floating and stirring around. Absolutely, the question and the poem tipping its hat to some of the thinking of Intelligent Design. Definitely a kind of metaphysical proof-text being built, layer by layer.

      So very tickled you noticed and appreciated my rather jocular throwing of Galileo’s line back over the fence to/at the Naturalists. Speaking of tossing lines back at dubious believers, the italics flick Melville back as well. But all the while moving from time/light to dust, to personality in the micro then personality in the macro, the first mover (and maker) of the dust. And of course The Name is not utterable, not merely a statement of being overwhelmed in the moment.

      Working on getting better at difficult subjects: Aim for the stars, you might only touch the roof; aim for the roof, you might not leave the ground!

  5. C.B. Anderson

    I knew that there must have been a good reason I switched from coffee to white tea twenty years ago: a man can only take so much theophany. I drink coffee about once a year now — usually during the hottest day in summer.

    I noticed, near the end of the poem, that you seem to be missing a relative pronoun:

    No ear can hear, no mind can comprehend
    [parenthetical clause omitted]
    the good God has in store ….

    what the good God has in store

    (or something like that) is what’s needed here.

    Nonetheless, it was an intriguing, thoughtful and thought-provoking poem.

    • Margaret Coats

      I had the same problem with “the good God has in store,” until I realized that “good” is not an adjective modifying “God,” but a noun serving as direct object of “has” and “hear” and “comprehend.” That is, “the good” is what God has in store, although no ear hears this good and no mind comprehends it.

      • C.B. Anderson

        Point taken, Margaret. But, good god (gruss Gott), is there some way we we can get around (avoid) this kind of misreading? Perhaps another relative pronoun, “that,” for instance. Ambiguity is useful only when the ambiguity is intentional. Otherwise it leads to accidental misunderstanding.

        the good that God creates, and freely gives

        would resolve the ambiguity and also preserve metrical integrity. The line that follows in the poem itself, though pleasant to the ear, is corrupted by two scansion-defying dactyls.

      • Margaret Coats

        Point taken, C. B. There are difficulties in syntax and scansion that will make some readers avoid Daniel Kemper. But God bless (which is what I think gruss Gott means, at least in Austria), Daniel’s ambiguity here seems to me intentional, and therefore in your judgment, useful. He seems to begin with “The Name” that is the uncreated good (Himself), and move down to created good (with the word “designed”) only in the antepenultimate line. But then that final couplet is a fragment rather than a sentence. Perhaps your favorable judgment on his admittedly difficult poem “Stepfather” was earned with a bit more clarity than we find in this cup of coffee. I agree that readers should be able find some means of reasoning out difficulties in order for the poem to be thoroughly delightful.

    • Daniel Kemper

      Howdy CB
      The grammar is right, as Maraget says, but the line was wrong, as you say.

      I like your fix very much and have already updated my local copy and should be fixing the post shortly.

      “the good that God creates, and freely gives” (facepalming and embarrassed by the dactyls)

      Thank you much for your praise (and patience with my dactyls).

  6. Norma Okun

    Wordsworth wrote the immortal lines about our soul being “Dust as we are, the immortal spirit grows
    Like harmony in music;” I think the relation of soul to clay and coffee is just exquisite.

    • Daniel Kemper

      Hi Norma,

      There IS a spirit and an essence to things, isn’t there? More things than just logic and math are independent of time. I really appreciate your praise.

  7. Yael

    I love the idea of an Intelligent Cup of Coffee. That must have been some cup of coffee indeed! Though a tea drinker, I’m still very impressed by your poem and I enjoy your metaphysical contemplations revolving around this spinning coffee. Thank you for sharing.

    • Daniel Kemper

      Hee hee, God as The Barista, not only The Author! Thank you for your read and praise.

  8. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Daniel, your hypnotic poem held my attention from beginning to end and back again. It’s smooth flow and rich, tasteful layers of philosophical musings left me with the same feeling; “The coffee spins and I am not the same”. I love the historical and biblical allusions, especially the reflection… in God’s image.

    My favorite lines are; “No eye can see/how dust could move to personality—/and yet it moves—to immortality”- such poetic potency. Your closing couplet is spiritual and oh so beautiful. I can feel the love in that genius cup of coffee. Thank you!

    • Daniel Kemper

      Hey Susan~ Thank you for your rich praise. Such an encouragement, such a pleasure. I’m particularly glad the poem rounded out well for you at the end. I hope to have more that can earn such praise!

  9. John Detwiler

    The poem really teases the mind with all its allusions and arguments — yet it holds back from saying its point so bluntly as, for example, Whitman.

    For comparison — my impression is that Whitman indiscreetly shoves the reader into the awareness of the harmony of all Creation and connection to its Maker — but all in all, it often comes off as shallow because the reader is forced into it.. This poem presents one with the door to that awareness, but allows the reader (and thinker) to open it himself.

    • John Detwiler

      Reading it through once more, I might say that the complexity of the syntax, with all the parenthetical phrases and “hypnotic” spinning of the lines, actually contribute to the good of the poem. It IS a difficult poem, but it’s about a deep topic.

      The poem seems to be intended to be sipped meditatively, just like the cup of coffee, not drunk at one gulp.

      • John Detwiler

        One more thought, on yet another reading.

        As much as I like this poem, the rhyme scheme bothers me. In particular, it’s the lack of a rhyme in lines 1 and 3. Every other line has its rhyme.

        Of course, the poem being as inviting as it is to meditation, that apparent imperfection stands out and makes me wonder if it, too, is part of the meaning of the poem. If “I am not the same,” maybe there is no rhyme afterwards. And sunlight returning, distilled, could be a reflection which is also MORE than a reflection — again, it would be reasonable for the rhyme scheme to differ here.

        But… if the poem moves from meditating on the question of immediate creation of spirit into matter and its harmony with the Creator Spirit (veni Creator Spiritus!) into an acceptance and awareness of that harmony… AND the rhyme scheme were to alter to become MORE harmonious and certain as the poem went on… then I might even like to see FEWER rhymes at the beginning. Perhaps the structure ought to be more tightly joined at the end than the beginning.

        Just a thought. The poem’s great, though.

  10. Daniel Kemper

    Somthing about me: I’m hard wired for careless mistakes even more than Biden for microphone gaffs. “Came” that starts L4 should end L3. But the bead you’ve drawn on me is true, nonetheless: the “flawed” rhyme between analogies and eyes was exactly what I had in mind. Else, it’s a double-sonnet. (but I flaw I didn’t figure out how to play with or fix on the comprehend/mind part. I really like your idea about starting at a rather dissolute state and coming more into rhyme focus as the poem clarifies its content. Really like it.

    And yet another thing inspiring on your read – I’ve forgotten to thank you so far. Thank you. – I’ve been musing on our society’s eight-second attention span and also how long it takes (on average) to drink a cup of coffee and wondering if I could design a poem whose average reading time would be the average time to drink a cup of coffee. With pauses/stanza/section breaks in such a way as to encourage a sip at that point…

    I’m so excited for the interest! Anyway, this is part of a trilogy with an epilogue, but the next parts are still under renovation. Hopefully, I’ll submit them (or at least the next) before the week is out!

    • John Detwiler


      Apparently I was reading closely… but not THAT closely. I could have noticed that the meter made “came” rhyme with “same.” Perhaps you can get the editors here at the Society to fix the type so it ends the line as you intended?

      Do you think “analogies” and “eyes” don’t fit as rhymes? Or “comprehend” and “mind”? I’m interested. As a teenager I thought of “slant-rhyme” as cheating. It’s twenty years past that, and I’ve long since given up a narrow-minded idealism for a broad-minded one, in so many aspects of my life.

      I wonder whether there’s something to the occasional flexibility of the rhyme that eases the poem just a bit into informality — in a way that improves it?

      I’m not sure. In a poem as spinning as this one, it seems fitting?

      For what it’s worth, I was drinking a cup of coffee as I read it. And it lasted the whole coffee — five to ten minutes. But I did have to read it a few times, and pause a lot.

      • Cynthia Erlandson

        I agree, John, with your third paragraph just above. I have come to love many consonantal slant rhymes, such as beyond/ comprehend/mind. I hear the varying of the vowel sounds as a sort of verbal harmony that, as you say, improves the poem somehow. My guess is that it improves it by keeping it from getting monotonous or predictable — adding an unexpected but interesting auditory element.

      • Daniel Kemper

        Hi again!

        “Eyes” and “analogies” are not rhymes and are defects, but since used in a deliberate way for poetic effect, are a worthy device— that is, an imperfection highlighting the mention of imperfection. To what degree it succeeds is a different matter, but the gesture is worthy, in my sensibility anyway. The other is a defect pure and simple. A chip in the coffee cup for a moment that was beyond my poetic skill at the time.

        No singer is excused for hitting off notes. None truthfully do it on purpose. I want to be a strong poet and to be a strong poet, well, one needs to be strong. I have more than a narrow view. Why can we not be perfect?

  11. Daniel Kemper

    Hi Cynthia

    Looks like my posts are a little out of whack. I am thankful for your generosity, but cannot accept it. I believe it is a myth that perfect meter is monotonous. I think all random variation bad. A poem might be beautiful in spite of it, but not because of it. On the other hand, I think controlled variation — actually using meter for something instead of merely getting used by it — to be one of the highest and most intense expressions of any fine art.

    • John Detwiler

      Daniel and Cynthia:

      A few thoughts on rhyme, music, and artistic creation.

      1) If rhyme has to do with the sound, and not with the visual, then analogies and eyes CAN be considered rhymes, yes? Not even a slant. The vowel in “eyes” is in fact, two sounds, a diphthong — “ah-ees.” This occurred to me because, although you keep insisting it’s not a rhyme, and I was initially inclined to agree, I keep hearing it as smoothly as all the other rhymes. I think that’s why.

      2) I think the almost-rhyme of “beyond/comprehend/mind,” coming about 3/4 of the way through the poem, has the effect of the extended and deceptive cadences we find so often towards the ends of movements in the late Classical and early Romantic period of music. (I’m thinking of Schubert, Beethoven, and Mozart, in particular).

      Frequently, in the first movement of a symphony or sonata, the themes are presented, developed, and then returned in their original form — but in order to bring it to a satisfactory conclusion, the movement of theme to theme, or theme to conclusion must be drawn out, ALMOST closed, but not quite, building the anticipation, before the final return to the harmonic closure.

      Again, this occurs to me because, while I am inclined to agree with you that these are not perfect rhymes, I don’t hear it as jarring. Having noticed the deceptive almost-rhymes, it FEELS like being spun along, with the anticipation building, before settling hard into the final couplet.

      3) I get that you didn’t intend these rhymes. Luckily, we’re not looking at your intent, but at the poem, and… I don’t know? Perhaps the genie that inspired this little sub-Creation is a better artist than your conscious mind?

      Ad maximam gloriam Dei!

      • Cynthia Erlandson

        John, thank you for bringing up this topic. I find it fascinating, so I can’t resist opening up another possible “round” of it here, mainly regarding slant rhymes. Don’t get me wrong; I love exact rhymes, too! But in the past few years, I’ve started to become more alert to slant rhymes used by some of my favorite poets. So, here are some examples for thought, and I’d love to know your reaction to some of them. P.B. Shelley, in “Ode to the West Wind”, rhymes is/harmonies; fierce/universe; mankind/wind; hearth/earth. In “Ozymandius”, he rhymes stone/frown; appear/despair. William Blake, in “The Tyger”, rhymes eye/symmetry. John Milton, in “Paradise Lost”, rhymes ecstasies/eyes.” E.A. Robinson, in “L’Envoi”, rhymes down/overthrown. Tennyson, in “In Memoriam”, rhymes brute/foot. W.B. Yeats, in “The Second Coming”, rhymes gyre/falconer/everywhere; drowned/hand; and in “Sailing to Byzantium”, he rhymes wall/soul/animal. Philip Larkin, In “The North Ship”, rhymes unsure/before, and — my favorite — reassembles/cymbals.

  12. Daniel Kemper

    John, being raised in the south, I had to laugh with you in surprise on the diphthong. More sympathetic than you might have otherwise thought. But I can’t accept despite the happiness your comment brought. It IS true it sneaks in better than expected though.

    Oh, and you are so right on the off rhyme pattern, nearer-miss-than-I-thought. To me, that’s the exact kind of thing that would have made it a good thing: a deliberate control, a pleasing pattern. Your mention of classical music is stunning too as I’m working very hard these days on something very closely related.

  13. Daniel Kemper

    Hi Cynthia. I love this engagement. In one sense, it’s just taste. But that’s not exactly the question. Being famous doesn’t change a missed note into a hit note, though fame can impact our minds to find reasons to accept it and praise it more than if an unknown had used them. For my intellect, there’s not reason to have missed rhymes at random places, for my taste it still sounds awful. The poems succeed in spite of and not because of them. It’s like a teacher writing smoothly on a blackboard, but once in a while the chalk just catches.

    Hugely important also: To build out the beautiful movements John refers to, the poet has to be spot on. Or the music can’t be discerned. The mind must first parse exceptions and then re-parse them to see if there’s a pattern etc etc etc and the heart will have long since moved on.

    Remarkably, there doesn’t seem to have been much development of the movement structures that John alludes to. Wide open field and the time is right for that to be the next big development in verse!

    (Disclaimer: by trade I’m an engineer and I have gaps in my knowledge of what’s out there big as valleys. Still, maybe you heard it hear first! )

  14. Daniel Kemper

    O! O! O! I just remembered. Auden’s “That Night When Joy Began”. THAT’s a great use of off rhyme. Sounds great and to the clever purpose of showing the intermixing that a new, potentially socially-unacceptable relationship can be. So strange and unplaceable, yet so familiar and well-fit.

    L1, L3 – vowel rhyme
    L1, L4 – consonant rhyme
    L2, L3 – consonant rhyme
    L2, L4 – vowel rhyme

    And on for three verses.

  15. John Detwiler


    “To build out the beautiful movements John refers to, the poet has to be spot on. Or the music can’t be discerned. The mind must first parse exceptions and then re-parse them to see if there’s a pattern etc etc etc and the heart will have long since moved on.”

    That’s not my experience, either with poetry or music. There is, of course, an immediate response to a work of art on first hearing. But then there’s the re-consideration later. Then there’s the return to it a couple years later. Sometime in the midst, there may be an attempt to really know the artwork — maybe even to play or recite it — and this means hundreds of repetitions. The heart is there throughout, and usually even more so after the mind has really had its chance to explore.

    I don’t think I’m an exception. For the grand history of mankind, there hasn’t been a sharp distinction between the makers of art and the audience.
    For example: A piano sonata would be known because it was heard at a friend’s house — because the friend was playing it. If the hearer enjoyed it, he might buy a copy — of the sheet music! — so he could learn to play it himself. And because he had this intimate relationship with hearing and playing pieces of music, he would even have more of an artisan’s mind even on the first and second hearing of ANY piece of music.

    In general, because “entertainment” was less overwhelmingly prolific as it is these days, everyone would have a more intimate relationship with any poem they enjoyed, reading it over, learning to recite…

    To restate the point — there’s the music on the surface of the poem. But in a good poem, there’s the music below the surface. And in a great work, there’s the music going all the way through.


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