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Mark Olival-Bartley studied applied linguistics at Hawaii Pacific University, attaining B.A. and M.A. degrees in Teaching English as a Second Language, and poetry at the City College of New York. He is now writing a dissertation on the sonnets of E. A. Robinson at LMU, where he tutors composition alongside editing flyers on poetry and style. His poems and translations have appeared in journals on both sides of the Atlantic. He is the resident poet at EcoHealth, where his science-themed verse is regularly featured, and a senior copyeditor at Review of International American Studies. He also teaches at Münchner Volkshochschule and leads the Amerikahaus Literaturkreis.


A Miracle for Breakfast

by Elizabeth Bishop

At six o'clock we were waiting for coffee, 
waiting for coffee and the charitable crumb 
that was going to be served from a certain balcony 
like kings of old, or like a miracle. 
It was still dark. One foot of the sun 
steadied itself on a long ripple in the river. 

The first ferry of the day had just crossed the river. 
It was so cold we hoped that the coffee 
would be very hot, seeing that the sun 
was not going to warm us; and that the crumb 
would be a loaf each, buttered, by a miracle. 
At seven a man stepped out on the balcony. 

He stood for a minute alone on the balcony 
looking over our heads toward the river. 
A servant handed him the makings of a miracle, 
consisting of one lone cup of coffee 
and one roll, which he proceeded to crumb, 
his head, so to speak, in the clouds
along with the sun. 

Was the man crazy? What under the sun 
was he trying to do, up there on his balcony! 
Each man received one rather hard crumb, 
which some flicked scornfully into the river, 
and, in a cup, one drop of the coffee. 
Some of us stood around, waiting for the miracle. 

I can tell what I saw next; it was not a miracle. 
A beautiful villa stood in the sun 
and from its doors came the smell of hot coffee. 
In front, a baroque white plaster balcony 
added by birds, who nest along the river, 
I saw it with one eye close to the crumb

and galleries and marble chambers. My crumb 
my mansion, made for me by a miracle, 
through ages, by insects, birds, and the river 
working the stone. Every day, in the sun, 
at breakfast time I sit on my balcony 
with my feet up, and drink gallons of coffee. 

We licked up the crumb and swallowed the coffee. 
A window across the river caught the sun 
as if the miracle were working, on the wrong balcony. 

Note:  A recitation can be heard here.

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