Thursday, April 11, 2013

On a Thin, Lavender Evening

Few things rival poetry on a sunny April afternoon.

Today's came courtesy of Chop Suey Books and since they were holding the reading downstairs, I made sure to get there early to get a seat.

Pulling a book (musings on artist Degas, written in 1927) off the shelf to enjoy until things got started, people began to filter in around me.

The trombone player and his main squeeze. Several other poets. A DJ.

Sliding in next to me was the man whose name has been on everyone's lips lately, Evrim of Sub Rosa bakery.

I mentioned what a pleasure it was and yet how odd it seemed to be seeing him out so much this week.

Almost like he was on vacation.

He smiled and said that some aspects felt very vacation-like.

Like eating breakfast sitting down. And sleeping two and a half hours later than normal...until  (gasp!) 7:30.

Clearly bakers are born, not made.

Reading first was Tarfia Faizullah, whose spirit animal, we were told, is a panther.

I'd heard her read before, so I knew to expect heartbreaking and evocative poetry about the atrocities women experienced in what became Bangladesh.

Introducing her poem, "1971," she promised that it would be the longest poem she read.

It's 1971 and the entire world is unraveling.

Two poems of the same name bookend her new book, "Seam," and she read from the first, "En Route to Bangladesh: Another Crises of Faith."

Here at the narrow mouth of this long human corridor.

One poem involved the interviews Tarfia had done with Bangladeshi women who'd  experienced the horrors of living through that period.

On a thin, lavender evening like this.

The final poem of the book, the other "En Route" closed out her reading.

Until that narrow band of life is the only belief yet.

Sometimes the poems were difficult to hear, reminding the audience of the gulf between that world and this one, but always compelling.

Tarfia was followed by Rebecca Lindenberg, a poet from New York with an incredibly sad story who began with humor.

"I had to disturb Wonton the cat to come up here," she said of Chop Suey's feline-in-residence.

Then the sad.

Her partner Craig, also a poet, had gone off on a five-moth hike through Japan and disappeared one day. The book of poetry about family she'd been working on then found a focus.

Dealing with the loss of her beloved became the basis of her new book, "Love, An Index."

She began with "Litany" and moved on to "Catalog of Ephemera," with its allusions to what she had lost.

You give me seduction and you allow me to give it back to you.

You give me 24 across.

You give me grief and how to grieve.

Rebecca talked about how "Writing radically is a humiliating thing to do," a truth if ever there was one. "I realized I didn't want to get it right. I have a right to facts and to give just enough."

She read us excerpts of "Love, An Index," skipping around between letters until we exhausted the alphabet.

A, ache, broken things healing.

Rome, 5B, stone floors

People need acts of attention from each other.

I suppose you cannot appreciate something until you have seen it move.

Forgive, we did a lot.

Q, quandary, a problem with no solution. See desire.

I'd have sat there while she read every single line of that poem, for the sake of hearing  just enough of what she chose to share.

"I'm going to read two more, maybe three, but one is really short, so you can pace your attention."

I only hope that I never feel the need to pace myself when listening to poetry.

"Status Update" was her love letter to Facebook, apparently a lifeline for her as she dealt with the loss and loneliness of her life.

Rebecca Lindenberg thinks of poetry as the practice of overhearing herself.

She told us not to hate on Facebook before finishing with "Marblehead."

The audience took a half second to collect itself and then applauded long and hard for the words we'd just heard.

On the way out, I stopped to talk with a friend and, like with most conversations this week, we marveled at this weather.

She admitted that all she wanted to do was sit on a porch and drink beer in the sunshine, something I've seen countless neighbors doing the past few days.

"I love that I can do a cultural thing and be done and it's not even 7:00," she marveled.

She was on her way out to dinner, with poets probably, and I was off to eat for a living, so we hugged and parted ways.

As for dinner, well, don't ask.

But after that bit of work was over, I took my partner in crime and went for dessert.

Well, not to eat it there but to score it and take it home to eat on the balcony along with some General's Nightcap, a dessert wine I'd gotten while, visiting the Chesapeake bay Wine Trail last week.

Walking into Garnett's, my favorite server was already busy cutting cake for a customer when she saw us.

I explained our intent- grab and go- and she paused with her big knife in the air, smiling.

"Are you going to want this chocolate coconut cake?" she said, looking right at me.

I'm so easy to read.

Once on the balcony where it may (or may not) have been a degree or two cooler than my 87-degree apartment, I enjoyed the singular pleasure of cake and Virginia wine under the softest of spring skies.

I love that I can do a cultural thing, a work thing and be outside on the porch with wine by 11:00.

And, just for the record, my spirit animal is a hawk.

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