Broken to Blessed

What is Broken is What God Blesses

by Jimmy Santiago Baca

The lover’s footprint in the sand

the ten-year-old kid’s bare feet

in the mud picking chili for rich growers,

not those seeking cultural or ethnic roots,

but those whose roots

have been exposed, hacked, dug up and burned

and in those roots

do animals burrow for warmth;

what is broken is blessed,

not the knowledge and empty-shelled wisdom

paraphrased from textbooks,

not the mimicking nor plaques of distinction

nor the ribbons and medals

but after the privileged carriage has passed

the breeze blows traces of wheel ruts away

and on the dust will again be the people’s broken

footprints.

What is broken God blesses,

not the perfectly brick-on-brick prison

but the shattered wall

that announces freedom to the world,

proclaims the irascible spirit of the human

rebelling against lies, against betrayal,

against taking what is not deserved;

the human complaint is what God blesses,

our impoverished dirt roads filled with cripples,

what is broken is baptized,

the irreverent disbeliever,

the addict’s arm seamed with needle marks

is a thread line of a blanket

frayed and bare from keeping the man warm.

We are all broken ornaments,

glinting in our worn-out work gloves,

foreclosed homes, ruined marriages,

from which shimmer our lives in their deepest truths,

blood from the wound,

broken ornaments—

when we lost our perfection and honored our imperfect sentiments, we were

blessed.

Broken are the ghettos, barrios, trailer parks where gangs duel to death,

yet through the wretchedness a woman of sixty comes riding her rusty bicycle,

we embrace

we bury in our hearts,

broken ornaments, accused, hunted, finding solace and refuge

we work, we worry, we love

but always with compassion

reflecting our blessings—

in our brokenness

thrives life, thrives light, thrives

the essence of our strength,

each of us a warm fragment,

broken off from the greater

ornament of the unseen,

then rejoined as dust,

to all this is.

From Selected Poems/Poemas Selectos, by Jimmy Santiago Baca, translated by Tomas H. Lucero and Liz Fania Werner. Copyright © 2009. Used by permission of New Directions. All rights reserved.

There used to be this idea with coffee that you could develop the “perfect cup”. Roasters would go about getting coffees from around the world and blend a little of this and a little of that, to make a coffee that was just right. Not too bitter, not too tangy, not too sweet. When Jamaica blue mountain coffee got popular a lot of people claimed that it was the “perfect cup of coffee”. While all of this had it’s time and place, eventually roasters began to change their mentality and the idea started to form that there is no perfect cup, that in fact the beauty of coffee is in it’s very diversity and differences.  Now, your more likely to find roaster trying to find ways to pull out all of the nuances of single origin beans.

While Santiago Baca’s poem is quite intense it seems to celebrate this idea in humanity. My favorite line is: “broken ornaments—when we lost our perfection and honored our imperfect sentiments, we were blessed.”

Whether we like to admit it or not it often seems that our imperfections are underlying motivations for many of our beauties and glory.

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Sand Mandala Latte

One of my hopes and dreams is one day to see a Tibetan Sand Mandala. These are intricate mosaics of colored sands poured out over a series of days or weeks. The different colors and designs are odes to life’s struggles as well as past Tibetan beliefs, stories and traditions. At the finish of the tedious and arduous task of creating the mandalas the awesome perfect art is swept away by a broom to represent the passing and fragility of life. This is frustrating and beautiful at the same time. I think it touches at one of the core themes of humanity and that is the desire to own and keep the beautiful. When as humans we encounter the intimate, vulnerable, inspiring, power of beauty we want to grab a hold of it and never let it go. What I would give to have one day of pre-camera/painting reality. How did humans respond when they couldn’t photograph or reproduce some incredible sunset or mountain scape? Today we photograph everything from our meals to our toys. The true Tibetan sand mandala however disappears before our eyes, to never be seen again, their power is left only to the emotional picture seared into our neuronal circuits. No body owns them or labels them or makes a profit on their enduring content. They are wiped away like every true experience of beauty.

In some weird American way, latte art speaks the same message to thousands of commuting nine to fivers across our country every day. You may laugh and think to yourself that this kid takes his coffee way to serious, however—I’m right. And if you haven’t realized that I take coffee to serious at this point then you’ve been in denial. If I had a dime for every time someone said that they don’t want to drink a coffee because it’s too pretty, I’d be probably be 10 bucks richer today. So they usually just grab their phone and take a picture, put the lid on and run off on their phone, finishing the conversation they paused, in order to not get a scowl from me. Still though, the moment we encounter something of beauty we want it to last forever. That’s what makes creating latte art so special is that you know it is one of a kind, intended for one person to enjoy, for one second before their lips gloriously lap it up; it returns to that idea of functional art, it get’s to be enjoyed in an interactive way. It is also a great way to slip some non-digital enjoyment into some ones life.

The one key difference between latte art and sand mandalas is that the consumers of coffee own their product, no body owns a true Tibetan sand mandala. Owning something is often times the only way we know how to cope with the vulnerability that beauty inevitably creates in our hearts. This is why we summit mountains, fly to the moon, hunt animals, build mansions and buy huge plots of land to post no trespassing signs on. We have got to own it. So that in owning the power that exposes us, we may hide it away where it will never lay our hearts bare again. Or brandish it where everyone can see that we have conquered it and that it doesn’t have the power over us that we felt the first time we experienced it. Before you can even ask the price of a sand mandala it is washed away and with it the key that sets your heart free from the true power of beauty.

Anyways that’s why I want to see a sand mandala and that’s why I like making latter art.

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Ode to Starbucks

I wrote this at a Starbucks in Thailand where I was baffled to have found a Starbucks in 2009.

Ode to Starbucks

Oh siren of lust,

oh bitter poison made sweet,

you offer the masses what they need.

Drink with me today and tomorrow you’ll return.

For if you avoid me, my poison is sure.

Like a knife in your head I’ll remind you, I own you.

At first sight a beautiful siren

Yet an eight legged beast am I.

My tentacles spread across the world

across the sea, the air, the earth, the sky.

Across the 7 continents you see I am there.

Like a crafty harlot waiting to ensnare.

So find peace in knowing that I am everywhere,

to fill your senses with coffee bean heaven.

So thanks again for giving me your riches,

And I’ll continue to give you my bitter sweet kisses.

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Slow Bar Coffee

Slow down.

Feel your breath. Notice the blades of grass moving together in the breeze. Hear the song of the warbler in the backyard. Take detail of the face that you are talking to. Breath in. Smell the aroma of a pre-infused pour-over coffee. Breath out. Taste the intricacies of a bean grown over a thousand miles away in a world that you do not know. Now sip the coffee. Can you taste the chili plant that grew next to it? Or the chocolate that dried on the same tarp? Maybe you can smell the subtle notes of tobacco that shared a truck ride with it from Aceh to Medan on the island of Sumatra. The possibility for debth and detail of experience in every day life is directly related to the ability to slow down and live in the moment.

It is commonly know in the coffee shop world that you have three minutes to create a product for an average commuting consumer. Three measly minutes to connect, create, and capitalize. Americans changed the word espresso, meaning expressly for you, to expresso, meaning fast or prompt. Everyone knows that our society is too fast paced. Like the humming bird flapping its wings 4200 times per minute in order to simply remain still. We are going nowhere but we are going fast. If only we were simply being nowhere instead of going nowhere. Hyphen the word and you have now-here. That is the point of the slow bar.

On the slow bar each specific coffee is “profiled” meaning, that the amount of coffee, the grind, the amount of water and the process, is measured to the gram. The cup of coffee is made per person. The way the water is slowly poured over the grounds allows for a “bloom” where CO2 is released from the fresh ground coffee, filling the room and senses with all the aromatic pleasure of a world that can only be found in the immediate present.

The paradox of living in the here and now is that it actually allows one to move greater distance. It’s like taking a microscope to phosphorescent water; there is an entire existence that waits to be found in each moment. In each cup of coffee lie entire stories and lives of people from across the globe that you get to experience if you take the time. So in the end it is as if the only way to really go somewhere is to go now-here. So next time you need help living in the moment stop by your local coffee shop. Hold the cup in your hand and waft the aroma towards you before tasting how good life can be when you simply stop and smell the coffee.

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The Dark Roast

– Inspired at White Dove Coffee in Flagstaff, AZ.
Let us sit and discuss the depths of our coffee cups.
Dark as the sky and as bitter as life.
Let the caffeine remind me what I haven’t known,
And you can kindly remind me that I haven’t known.
We’ll whisper about the joy and the pain,
Oh the pain!
And we haven’t even seen any real pain,
But we can see that there is such pain.
And it’s a high price that is paid
a sorrow for some, for glory to be.
Sorrow,
as intense as the dark flame
burning on the heads of monks
who pray in unknown languages.
Chased to sandstone cliffs by tigers
And trapped by gnawing mice with appetites for twine,
They contently burn nowhere, thinking:
Everyone is running from the fire,
we might as well just let the left over carbon feed the flame.
It better represents what is in, than this skin ever did,
At least for a moment express the sorrow of longing,
and the joy of burning, bright and fast.
Since, as it is, we are vapors at best.
However, if it is joy,
then we laugh!
and rejoice with gratitude in humility.
Spinning with wild emotion
as stars in an orbital dance.
Violent expression moving such distance,
All the while preserving the stillness of every moment.
We burn through painted deserts,
spin through stars and time has forgotten that we exist.
So we stir in the cream,
and it is beautiful.

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Espresso, a thing of beauty.

Bodenloser-Espresso

Water Temperature: 158-164 degrees F.

Espresso: Fresh ground

Roast: Fresh but not too fresh

Grind: Tight and consistent

Dosage: 25 grams

Tamp: Consistent

Shots: Between 34 and 36 grams

Crema: Reddish, no blonding, some tiger striping.

Aroma: Floral

Taste: Bright, cherry, some chocolate.

This is an extremely basic recipe for good tasting espresso; I didn’t even touch water quality and roasting aspects. And here you were getting frustrated when it took longer then three minutes to get your latte, and you wonder why the barista rolls their eyes when you ask for a hazelnut, caramel, white chocolate mocha. Be assured, you are justified. After all who wants to listen to Chopin when we have Daft Punk. Or why look at a Rembrandt when we can watch Spielberg in 3D. No need to gaze at the stars when laser shows are so incredible.

Everyone knows that as humans we dilute and distort beauty. Every honest person I know well has a place in their life where they recognize that they don’t appreciate beauty in the way that they could. We all have those feelings, feelings that we should be more pure. Espresso is one of the areas where the majority of coffee drinkers are victims of popularization. There is a simple yet complex unified whole in Espresso, and it takes experience to be able to enjoy it to its’ full capacity.

I come from a family of purists, we are always trying to find the real core of whatever subject is at hand, and we fight and argue over it for hours. However, there are a few things that we all agree on, Disney Land is awesome, Michael Jackson was one of the best entertainers the world has ever known, and you don’t diss on Starbucks. Now hold the phone! Where is the unity and wholeness of that? How can a family of purists love so many distorted diluted realities?

Possibly one of my favorite experiences of managing coffee shops in the last 10 years has been seeing the face of a first time espresso drinker (usually a new hire) and having them describe espresso as strong and bitter while scrunching up their nose, and then a year later seeing them light up when they tell me about the espresso they recently had in San Francisco or getting giddy when they are pulling good shots all day.

The conclusion? Daft Punk is so catchy that they are addicting, laser shows are mesmerizing, and Steven Spielberg is a genius. Chocolate and coffee are incredible together and caramel macchiatos are pretty delicious. We love these things and we love experiencing them. If we let them they will lead us to deeper experiences of beauty. Just like a well-told love story. Espresso contains the essence of a beautiful transcendent that beckons us to swim with our senses in all purity. Yet be cautious, our journey to purer deeper enjoyment of beauty should never create jadedness to the path that leads us there. Other wise we are only limiting our ability to appreciate all aspects of beauty, which in the end is a tragedy instead of a love story.

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Van Gogh Espresso

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Philosophers often maintain that beauty is beautiful because it is unified and whole. Sub-traits include simplicity, truth (to itself), complexity and proportion. The debate of whether  beauty is subjective or objective is ongoing, however there is little debate to these certain aspects of the beautiful that cannot be absent from a transcendental object. The depth to which we understand or appreciate beauty however is a never-ending sea into which our senses and understanding can swim for an eternity.

Our experiences no doubt affect our perceptions and appreciation for the beautiful. I recently experienced a Van Gogh exhibit at the Denver art museum, there were probably over 200 Van Gogh pieces at this exhibit and it was absolutely incredible. I very much appreciated the beauty I saw there however my appreciation paled in comparison to the friend I went with who was an artist and had been a great fan of Van Gogh. His knowledge and understanding of the deep color, atypical perspective, unique stroke, and pre-emptive timing of Van Gogh’s work undisputedly gave him a deeper experience of the beauty found in the exhibit.

Beauty is unified and it is whole. This does not mean that a beautiful transcendent doesn’t consist of many parts that create a whole. For instance a symphony has many parts that all must agree and align to create one unified beautiful symphony. A listener can isolate a flute in his mind or a violin or piccolo however the beauty of the symphony rest in its’ unity and if one aspect is misaligned the beauty of the symphony is lost. The complexity held within the symphony is accentuated by the fact that its’ message is simple and that all it’s parts are proportional to themselves. Like waves of a crystal sea the truth of a symphony washes over an appreciative listener, and in that moment there is beauty….

….stay tuned to find what Van Gogh, the symphony, the philosophy of beauty and espresso all have in common.

*Inspired in part by “The Evidential Power of Beauty” by Thomas Dubay

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