Mouth Of The City
Though I hate Saturday night readings, I agreed, mostly because my friend T was also asked to appear and she would drive me there and back. She texted me that she was picking up one other guest who lived near me but she would come get me first. I packed several poems in a business folder and she drove us a few blocks from my apartment before parking in front of a pizzeria.
She said: “He asked if I had room for a small-ish person… I said, How small. He said 5″2″, I said fine…”
I thought maybe he was the small-ish person.
She sent The Boy a text, then called. Her caller id read: Shaun – Friend and he announced he’d be at the car in 45 seconds. When I turn towards her again, I see The Boy standing outside her window, waving. Skinny, dark, dressed in black accentuated by spots of bright color: gold trimmed glasses, dark red splotches and abstract designs flowing across his pants, jacket. Then, both back doors of the car opened. A young woman got in behind me, whom I never turned around to see, and The Boy got in behind T. We drove off.
The Boy was, sweet, if noisy. He talked continuously and quickly filled the car with the scent of spit and leather. T cracked her and my passenger windows for fresh air. He talked about his work, about former teachers at SF State, some of whom T had known. His scent, I awkwardly admit here, was familiar and specific. My cousin from childhood, Larry. The Boy reminded me of him strongly, in how the corners of Larry’s mouth stayed milky white with saliva and he smelled like talk. During the ride towards the freeway, the air in the car ripened to acrid and raw, the loud scent mixed somehow with the soft, vaguely sweet odor of leather. And mixed in there further is a cigar, but from much earlier. The tiniest remnants of tobacco but no direct odor of weed.
He was the only one to really talk and he talked for the car’s passengers, and for the entire ride. The young woman with him asked a couple of questions, but he in turn never asked anything. He halted both the girl and T in order to clarify something. T attempted to volley a kind of conversation with him, but he wasn’t a listener and they both seemed to speak past one another until T yielded the floor and focused on driving. His stories extended and wandered and he kept Knowing instead of conversing or exchanging. He kept teaching, explaining, laying out a flow chart, halting anyone from occupying the quiet space between some of his sentences with “but wait though,” or “but then check this out”.
Several minutes passed. On the freeway, we drove through the toll gates smoothly and without much traffic and entered into San Francisco aglow at night. He remembered names, attitudes, he sprayed stories in every direction.
I never spoke. There seemed no need. T listened in the way elders watch children tussle and run. She seemed to enjoy his energy and how life worked. The girl who was with him, was with him totally. He spoke enough for everyone, and there was nothing I wanted to say or add or ask. At times when I thought ‘maybe I’m being way too quiet,’ I grunted. But I let him go on. He didn’t speak so much as emit a kind of gas, like a piece of aging fruit.
Finally, The Boy says: Who are you guys hyped to see?
I paused, and looked over at T briefly. I quietly, very quietly, mentioned the name of the brother who invited me and T to attend this event and share poems. T echoed me.
The girl, then: Are you guys performing tonight, too?
T and myself, shrugged, dispassionate: Um, yeah.
And both in the back seat seemed to deflate slightly. We were neither defiant nor excited and especially not engaged with ego. We were just Poets. This is what we do.
Once off the freeway, he directed us from the backseat, no computer maps. He pointed out landmarks, buildings for the girl with him. He mentioned some history when he could. He knew his shit. He knew everything. Except when to stop.
Turns out, the community center where arrived was the place The Boy worked. The center opened to a modest entryway which split into a large meeting area just to the right and then a stairwell on the left reaching up to the second floor. A couple of young women who’d already arrived for the reading began assembling the stacked chairs into a huge oval in the center of the large open room. The Boy had already disappeared upstairs and stomped back down. He offered us some tea or some water, without giving us any. He led us up to the kitchen, showed where boxes of tea was stacked, coffee mugs, the microwave. I guess if we were to use water, it should come from the sink and not the half opened pallet of water bottles downstairs. He never mentioned. I never asked. Upstairs next to the kitchen was a two or three small offices and not much else. After opening the cabinet and shrugging over the tea boxes, he just stopped. Nothing else to see or say. The other women who’d arrived looked at a couple of paintings on the wall. I wandered back downstairs to the oval of chairs. The Boy remained upstairs with the TV cheering a football game.
For a good twenty minutes or so, I sat talking with T and a couple other young women who arrived for the event. A few more people showed until there were about 10 of us. The man who organized the event came in and was surprised to find the chairs arranged in a circle, not in audience rows. “We’ll roll with it, though,” He said, then pushed his chair back opening the oval and stood and recited poems. Then, at random, anyone who wanted to get up, did, without being called.
The Boy who rode with us and let us in was there, and not there. He did not join the circle. He went back upstairs for a minute, returned. He stood by the front door in attempt to lure more people inside, though very few passed by. Those who did just gave Thumbs Up but no further interest. The Boy returned, standing outside the circle, then wandered off again.
I got up and read some older poems. I had no idea what the event was or who the audience might be so the poems I chose were random and about family since I’d been thinking of family over Thanksgiving. My family is dead. My Thanksgiving was with promoted friends. I read a poem about my father and cousin who would drink alcohol and their personalities would change, violent, belligerent. It was an equally belligerent poem. At the end, I looked up and saw him standing outside the circle.
“I didn’t meet that person in the ride over,” he said aloud. Incredulous.
“I know,” I said.
At evening’s end, there was call we should do this again. Monthly? Maybe relocate next time to the larger center on the hill, The Boy pointed to vaguely, where we’d get a larger audience, maybe, where other people could hear these amazing words. And there were some strong, deeply felt words in that small, gathering and intimate room. T was amazing. Two of the other sisters who read were dope, one doing poems currently being adapted into a theater piece.
I looked at my phone and felt relieved. We were done before 9. The poets and audience wandered back out into the night. T and I sat in the car waiting for The Boy to lock up the center and ride with us back to the bay. He mentioned one club, then another. T wasn’t interested, I barely wanted to do the poetry event in the first place. The girl with him said nothing. But we just drove back to Oakland. The Boy pointing to one venue, then another, picking up his monologue pretty much where he’d left it. Did he like the poems he heard T and I do? I think so. Of all his words spilled, he had few about us.
We dropped him and his girl off a block or so away from where we picked them up earlier. The girl kindly said goodnight and thanked us. The Boy said nothing, just got out. T made a U-turn and I watched them standing before a closed restaurant, dark and foreboding. They didn’t walk in any direction, just stood there. They looked up at the name above the awning like tourists.