Common Grounds by Cathryn Essinger

Common Grounds
Bluffton, Ohio April, 2017

As the barista hands me my coffee,
I read the word REGARDLESS
inked along the inside of her left arm.

After grading way too many freshman
essays, I consider complimenting her
on her grammar, but just tip my head

for a better look. The tattoo seems a bit
pouty, a little punk, but I don’t see that
in her face, where there is only a soft

weariness and a slow smile. Oh, it’s not
finished, she says. I’m saving my money
for two roses, here and here, and maybe

someday a butterfly and a name. And now
I hear it in her voice, an old sadness that
should not have taken hold in one so young–

a loss, an injury, a bruise so deep it remains
unseen? Still, there is a touch of arrogance,
a resilience that I hope will see her through.

She bites her lip, pulls down her sleeve,
hands me my change. I think it best not to ask
and try to imagine the roses, regardless.

by Cathryn Essinger

Editor’s Note: This poem’s quiet narrative belies the understanding that lies at the heart of the story.