Shenandoah Volume 68, Number 1
Volume 68, Number 1 · Fall 2018


What used to be—: a school; what use

to volunteer

to taste

a misheard order? This day:

espresso; a coffee-colored woman;

the walls of this café, once

orange behind the long

row of fish tanks

above the banquettes,

drawing her public displays

of alienation weekly. Meekly,

I’ll take it, she tells

the waitstaff. A regular,

through winter she watches

as they draw the specials

on the chalkboard.

Some mornings, weeping.

A wretched, wrenching

silence: a decade. Who can tell

whether their take-

no-notice is pretend? What coffee-

colored woman hasn’t

wondered at some point


and how she disappeared?

That used to be there you can see where…

still in Ithaca—:

her synesthetic awe.

A song in demitasse

with sugar in the raw.

Such granulated sweet,

a cutting turned to slick

and canorous.


sometimes they give

the I can’t

take it! I can’t.

take it! something lush.

That texture of

alone, uniquely

hers—: a purchase.

She taps at

the suckerfish

cleaning its tank and sips

the song. It’s free; it is—

Learn this here

—a mistake her mind

makes with her tongue.

Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon is the author of Open Interval, a 2009 National Book Award finalist, and Black Swan, winner of the 2001 Cave Canem Poetry Prize, as well as Poems in Conversation and a Conversation, a chapbook collaboration with Elizabeth Alexander. She is currently at work on The Coal Tar Colors, her third poetry collection, and Purchase, a collection of essays. She is an associate professor of English at Cornell University.