Every once in a while, I’m witness to something that is unexpectedly momentous. One of those experiences where I think whoa, this is really HAPPENING. Something new, something stunning, something rare is happening right in front of me! Thank God I’m here to see it.
This is what happened Sunday night at my friend Christine’s Boy Friends: Lessons for Girls Valentine’s poetry reading at Jalopy Tavern in Red Hook. Jalopy Tavern is positioned amidst a tangle of streets and highways that meet like a messy box of electric cords at the north end of Red Hook. I had slogged through the icy rain and sharp wind to get to this warm red bar…. and I was fricking mesmerized by what unfolded before me there.
Over the past 26 weeks (for each of the 26 letters of the alphabet), under the pseudonym Pet Murmur, Christine has published one poem per week. Each week she goes to the next letter of the alphabet to feature a new poem about a “boy” she has been involved with.
For each boy she’s written a poem about, she has sought him out to gain his permission to use his name and photo. Just doing this was a humbling and illuminating process for Christine. As she stepped up to the microphone last night, in a pleated black skirt, with her strawberry blond ponytail swinging behind her, she said “this is an evening about embarrassment” then smiled a dimpled smile and looked down at the floor.
First, two friends of hers read poems (Nicole Miller and Rae Winkelstein), and a young lady sang a couple sweet country songs about lost love (Katie Winkelstein-Duvenec). Then Christine stepped up to share a handful of the 26 Boy Friends poems. And, dude, she ROCKED IT OUT.
Let me tell you something about Christine – this woman is not exactly an extrovert. She is head of the English department in a small college in the Bronx, so she does regularly present in front of groups, but she’s still mega shy. When she had the idea for the reading at her neighborhood bar Jalopy, and I excitedly said “let’s call them right now!” She was pretty nervous about making such a bold move. I didn’t know if she’d pull it off.
But then, a few weeks later, I got the invite for the event and knew that the drive to finish this project in style was bigger than her urge to remain cloaked in anonymity. Valentine’s was the perfect moment for this performance.
How can I properly explain the experience of seeing Christine read her poems? Well, first of all, she didn’t just read them flat. She FELT them. They came out of her skin, they rose up from the soles of her feet and the soul of her history. Sometimes she spoke quickly, sometimes she paused and savored a phrase. Sometimes she giggled and sometimes something grave and ancient seemed to overtake her. Christine did not grow up just prancing in a field of buttercups – she has been one acquainted with the night. And in moments, that night rose up and filled the whole place.
We were in a bar open to the public, so not everyone was there for the poetry. Some folks were separately socializing in couples and small groups. But there were a few moments where the whole place was dead silent but for Christine’s words. Her reading was both too big and too delicate to deny. How often have you seen a poem render a whole bar silent? Not out of politeness – but because everyone suddenly lost their voice? That’s what happened Sunday night.
Personally, I get great vicarious pleasure out of other’s successes. So since the reading I have been basking in a very deep sense of satisfaction. The fact that Christine overcame her fear and arranged this rare and rad experience for those of us who made it out to the bar… that I got to witness this stunning culmination of her Boy Friends project, enriches me deeply.
It makes me want to shout out to YOU, whoever you are, DO YOUR THING! Be rare and rad and DO YOUR THING. I know sometimes it’s just so-so. But sometimes it’s magic. And someone like me gets floored and inspired. You know, you’ll never know unless you try.
So tell me… what is whispering to you? What thing is tugging at your shirtsleeves? Write it in the notes below or at least admit it privately to yourself. Then I dare you to take a tiny step in that direction… then another… then another…