How can I enjoy a poetry reading?
A few days later, you drive to a poetry reading.
You drive by a newly minted loft district with a working-class name to obtain grittiness by seance. Everything is recently renovated. Many nice stores stand where there used to be no stores at all. This was a rail yard or a bakery or something vaguely industrial.
The poetry reading is in an abandoned house across from the new loft district. You watch gentrification in real-time, you see the transition. The loft across the street costs $500,000 and the “event space” house is $50,000 on land worth $300,000.
Some poets you know trudge through the grass on the side of the street, because where there are no lofts there are no sidewalks.
Stop your car.
The three poets look at you, slightly confused.
“Josh?” one of them says. It is Libby.
Libby is a modernist poet and one of the poets walking on the side of the road. She scheduled the reading.
“We’re getting some food,” Kevin says.
Kevin is a traditional poet and he is publishing an excerpt of your novel on his literary journal website. Your novel is about a guy who believes God is telling him to open a taco truck.
“Everyone, this is Ashley. Ashley this is Libby and Kevin. And…”
You do not know the last poet’s name and he says his name, but now you don’t remember it.
Drive a little farther and park the car next to a crumbling curb.
You and Ashley exit the car, and you press the key fob for a beep noise.
“Now everyone knows our car is safe but no one cares,” you say.
Walk around the crumbling curb to the “event space.”
Outside is a chain link fence around a small yard with knee-high grass.
Walk into the event space and stand in a foyer. Burlap sacks cover the walls. Look into the next room and you assume it was a bedroom at one time and the room is empty except for black sheets on the walls. The crown molding crumbles. The hardwood floors have large holes.
Open the door and it’s a grimy bathroom. No shower curtain, no toilet seat or lid. Everything is decaying. Which is why the builders will soon buy this and destroy it.
Think of the phrase, “rusted apples.”
Think of the phrase “darkest artist fire.”
Think of the phrase “the hot edge.”
Step out of the bathroom and look for Ashley.
She is in the main “event area” in what used to be a living room but now contains 15-ish chairs facing an overturned bookshelf. Near the stage is a small folding table with one bottle of wine, a case of Coors Light and six to ten bottles of water.
Walk over to her and say “I’m gonna go outside for awhile,” and she says, “Okay.”
You and Ashley walk outside and stand next to a chain link fence that covers one part of the old yard of the event space.
“Coors Light is cool now I guess?” you ask.
Wait outside for the poets to come back from wherever they were going.
“Where were they going again?” Ashley asks.
“I’m not sure, to get food?”
Watch people park on the street. Watch a few people walk past the event space. More and more people park and walk into the event space and you both decide to go back in.
Introduce yourself to people and say hello and say your name and feel good for some reason.
You see Kevin and Libby and the poet you can’t remember finally walk in.
Sit down when the reading starts. Libby reads, then someone named Molly reads, then the poet whose name you can’t remember reads then a person named Samantha reads.
“I follow her on Instagram, I think,” Ashley says about Samantha. Samantha is tall with a nose ring, with short hair tucked behind her ears. She reads five poems, each about a different religion.
More poets read, the reading has ballooned into a menagerie of different poets with different connections.
Keep thinking, “Did I do the ballooning?” while fidgeting with your manuscript.
Watch your doctor friend walk in. She does not see you immediately, but then Ashley waves at her slightly and she walks towards where you are sitting.
“Our next poet, or writer, is Josh,” Libby says.
You hear applause. No, you don’t.
You read two short stories. One is an excerpt from the taco truck novel and another is about shopping at Kmart, you are the only one not reading poetry.
You finish and two or three more poets read. At the end, Libby comes over to you.
“That was good. Thank you for being here,” she says.
“No problem,” you say.
Libby will publish a chapbook by another Internet writer that you all know, but have never met. She is with Riku. He has more than 80,000 Instagram followers.
Riku would need to rent a semi-large sports stadium to contain his followers. You would not need to do that.
Ashley and her doctor friend huddle in a corner around one of the bottles of wine. Your doctor friend is an infectious disease doctor, and poetry readings are a novelty, not her life.
You walk over to them and the infectious disease doctor talks about meningitis outbreaks.
You feel bad for not saving anyone’s life. You have no discernible skills to save a life. You could yell loudly or call 911 and ask for someone else to do something.
You walk outside and let your wife and the doctor finish talking. You see some of the other poets. Some of the other poets like Jayson(?) and Molly are from out of town. You stand around and talk to them about what it’s like on Facebook, the only other place you’ve all been together.
“When’s your New York trip?” Kevin asks. Kevin read from his book about Jonah and the whale. He is a physical therapy tech and publishes random chapbooks for fun and lives in a normal Nashville neighborhood, but not a cool neighborhood.
“Next week,” you say and look at Ashley five feet away, talking to your doctor friend.
“Well, tell me if you get it,” Kevin says.
Go outside and stand by a brick wall and watch Kevin smoke a cigar and hold a small plastic cup of wine. Kevin’s beard looks different. Sometimes it is grown out like those modern heritage Americana people, sometimes it is short and tight scruff, like an overworked startup entrepreneur and yet other times it is untamed with long sideburns, like he just got off tour with a metal band.
“Hey, come get beers with us if you want,” says Libby.
“I’ll go, can you come?” Kevin says to you.
“We barely go out anymore and we can’t stay out anymore even if we get a babysitter we can’t stay out late. A baby won’t sleep in. They don’t care what time the party was over the night before,” you say.
“Cool, cool,” Kevin says. “when you get back into town, let’s hang out. Tacos maybe.”