Wake Up Call At The Old Morgue
I read as part of Litquake SF this weekend in the Mission, reading with the group Cave Canem. I went with Stewart, my friend and fellow CC member, who reached out and asked to join me when I went to the city. We made it to the gallery exactly on time, but first mistaking it for its neighboring shop. We fell into the shop like flies, though the space didn’t immediately make sense. There was no space for performance or audience. But this was the address given, Right? Everything on the street was open as we walked down, we saw readers standing in glass display windows at shoe stores and mysterious raves/gatherings in much too dark alleys for ya boy. Stewart looked back out towards the sidewalk and saw Arisa, my contact and the event organizer, standing Right There like a movie star, tall and regal, on her phone. I didn’t push for a mushy greeting. No warm shakes or hugs; being on time was love enough. It was the right address, but we didn’t see the sandwich board at the entrance to a long dark alley lit with rope lights. The Incline Gallery is indeed built with two inclines. Arisa loved explaining how it was once a morgue and indeed its an odd building, a vertical gallery with long inclines leading upstairs with wire and string art suspended along the walls. I made my way up to the top and met the gallery owner Christo, who immediately jumped into a story about his name and why he owns a gallery. He apologized for being so tired and explained his sunken eyes and asked our forgiveness if he sneaks out before the reading ends for a quick drink and a bed. When he asked if i needed anything i immediately said bathroom and he opened a glass patio door leading down a dark long hallway that seemed diabolically without light fixtures. It was near sunset and I was able to follow what little light leaked through the dimness to find the restroom as if the thing glowed in the dark.
The Incline Gallery had two level landings and Arisa placed the readers at both; myself and roger reeves used the middle landing, robin coste lewis and Arisa used the top. Us introducing one another so the audience, mingling all around us, could just move their heads from one person to another. No microphones. Poems came from every direction, it seemed. It was quite beautiful. I was the first reader and stood in the center of the incline facing audience standing or seated on the floor going up towards the top level and back down towards the street. An older couple came in with two dogs on leashes and they flanked me on either side while I lifted my voice to the upper level. We were to introduce one another so I introduced Robin standing at the top of the gallery behind a web of white yarn, and she introduced Roger who was standing with me, and the night ended with Arisa back at the top.
We all performed with audience standing at our shoulders, creating this great intimacy. It reminded me of poetry readings from years ago. Odd little art gatherings in living rooms, on street corners, on public transportation. Then it was over and wasn’t so awkward, people flowing out of the gallery like water draining from a container. Neither Stewart nor I mingled very much. We left the gallery and when we got to the sidewalk, I immediately recognized a woman coming towards us. She was scheduled to read and breathlessly told us she’d driven in from Tracy and the traffic, we already saw earlier, was awful. God knows where she parked, if she parked. I didn’t ask.
Is it over already? She said anxious.
Yeah, I said, defeated. I hugged her and introduced Stewart who’d said earlier he wanted to meet her, wanted to meet another local Cave Canem member. Earlier I told him she and I went to grade school together.
She shook her head exasperated over the traffic and briefly said she’d come from her brother’s event in Tracy. I told her to check in with Arisa who remained at the gallery wrapping things up. She spun away from us.
God, she is gorgeous, Stewart said.
Yes, she is. I said.
We walked over towards the Elbo Room and went into the bookmobile from the SF Library that was parked out front. I barely noticed the dude at the door was holding a clicker in his palm, taking an informal census. Inside there was a woman stationed at a laptop whom he knew. We ought to do this every year, the woman said. We had hundreds of people visit tonight. Hundreds.
Stewart smiled, pleased because earlier he had said the same thing.
*** UNNECESSARY ADDENDUM
We separated soon as we got back to Oakland, him vanishing into the night to meet up with a friend he’d been texting, me jumping a bus home, having sold a book and snagged a burrito. The night was fun. My heart felt full. Watching Stewart be absorbed into the night, I didn’t feel abandoned or alone. I didn’t wait long for my empty, late night bus. It felt good opening my voice and delivering poems in that place. And I saw you there in the crowd! You with your supple, gorgeous face, your luminous eyes. How I appreciated your presence and applause and love.