Open to Suggestion
I learned to be a better poet at the open mic. Not better than, but better at being better than that. Lit by the beer cooler’s twinkling light, shadowed by the regulars moving into position, I sat, sober, nursing my espresso wondering what, if anything had changed in the forty years since I last signed up for a five minute spot of influence in a room of more or less friendly strangers. Decades ago, during that war, the point of reference was cultural resistance to a war machine and the beginnings of women listening to women and men wondering how the paradigm shift could still be played to their erotic advantage. After the first three poets performed I sensed not much had changed. The lost loves, and the beers it took to forget, or remember, created a vibe of being in a wall to wall country music diaspora with slightly better diction.
My snark began to rise, perhaps due to the late night caffeine and impatience, when a sincere and skilled younger poet, well I am 67, they were all younger, surprised me into listening with my mouth closed. The poem addressed an impending suicide, postponed for a series of interviews. The suicide, which may or may not have been dressed for the occasion, had to sit through a series of verbal questions to validate its viability as an option to the poet’s societal position. The vocabulary used, the cadence chosen were ordinary enough to be understood. The matter of fact of the invention side stepped gut wrenching sucker punches or hand wringing solipsism. The mirror became a window, the window a door, and the door opened what many in the room may have partially closed.
A fluency of spirit spiraled from the stage, dovetailing the expectations of progress, proficiency, and promise a blank page engaged hopes to yield to the faithful. We, or at least I, miss a lot by not knowing where to look. Reading between the lines, listening to the stillness gripping the tables in the room, watching the words take their seats in the audience imagination, I learned again, the grace of shared perspective is highlighted by the solitary seeking solace. We are scared and become brave because of it. What we listen to determines what we hear and our inner ear is alert to the whisper of community, compassion, and common ground.
I finally got my spot in the light. I cleared my throat, and my conscience, and addressed the invisible ink linking us to the burning pages of history. I surrendered my too quick reduction of everything unjazzy, I let the joy of discovery well up and wave. I read my poem and believed, really believed, it was you that wrote it.