Thursday, February 5, 2015

Words Remind You of Someone

Poetry should always be the precursor to discussing romance.

Nothing could have suited me better today than waking up to an invitation to a poetry reading. With the exception of a man I barely knew reciting "My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose" to me a couple of weeks ago, it had been far too long since I'd heard poetry read.

Sometimes you need more than a snippet from a stranger.

Walking in to Reynolds Gallery was bittersweet since it was the first time since owner Bev Reynolds had died that I'd been in. But she was certainly there in spirit because, as it turned out, she was the one who'd originally asked the poet to read at the gallery last August.

But poets are busy people who apparently put off readings and Elizabeth Seydel Morgan was only now getting around to it.

The female energy in the crowded room was fabulous with all kinds of talented women - painters, poets, gallerists - taking up the folding chairs in the gallery around me with the men scattered throughout like tapioca balls in bubble tea.

After being introduced as Buffy rather than Elizabeth, the elegant woman spoke (with a former teacher's ability to project vocally) to the crowd before the reading, allowing the tardy to find seats as she made observations.

"My poet friends are coming in late of course," she said, smiling. "All my artist friends were early or on time." Explaining that she didn't believe in poetry going on too long, she warned us matter-of-factly that, "I stop when the eyes glaze over." This crowd definitely didn't look like she had anything to worry about.

She compared her latest book, "Spans: New and Selected Poems" to an artist's retrospective covering work over the course of a career, saying she'd chosen the name because the poems spanned so many periods of her life.

Before reading an early one, What's the Most Elvis Ever Weighed? she explained that the first stanza took place when he was fat (260 pounds) and the second in 1956. "I brought the proof in case anyone doesn't believe me. It's in the back."

I never saw the proof but the second stanza was about a backstage visit with a friend to talk to Elvis who opened a Coca Cola (pronounced CoCola like the Atlanta native she was) with his key ring and shared it with the girls.

I don't imagine you'd ever forget that soda.

Some time after she read A Sun Lover's Book about afternoons spent with sun-warmed books read in a tree platform, we heard the door open and without missing a beat or looking up, she said, "If it's Ron Smith, don't let him in."

It was and as he sat in the only remaining available chair in the front row, she shared that, "Ron is the poet laureate of Virginia." So while he wasn't punctual, he got a pass because of his presumed talent.

From The Party Before the Party came the line, "I was a grown-up in a sundress," an imagery that I no doubt find appealing because I am unapologetically that grown-up all summer long. Given all her lilac imagery, she also sounded like as big a fan of the fragrant flowers as I am.

Sunset on Eastern Beaches (not that there is such a thing except in Key West, she pointed out) was directed at those who loved the Outer Banks ("Our faces glow with sun we cannot see") but also referenced Tuscany ("Fired horizon hushed us into silence").

Listening to the poems was like following along with the journey of her life as various issues presented themselves with age. "This is the most jagged grief," she wrote in Lost Without Ceremony. About friends who'd downsized and moved out of their homes, she wrote The Owner is Leaving This House, an elegy to the gradual removal of belongings from one house to a new space.

Keeping to the elegiac theme, she read poems about poisoning and shutters, but also said to laughter, "They're elegiac but not wallowing. I'm trying to encourage you to buy my book."

Fittingly, she closed with, "This is my last poem. Pay attention," an ode to her listeners and a wish that in the poetry, "Some word I said reminded you of someone." The last line was yet another reminder that this was the last poem, in case we'd missed it. I don't think anyone had.

More than once she checked to make sure our eyes weren't glazing over and the first time she tried to stop reading, the crowd got vocal yelling for her to keep going, which she did. Don't try to tell me poetry lovers can't get rowdy.

With the reading officially ended, I took the collective female energy in the room and left to go meet a friend for dinner. Why surround yourself with so much life experience and not put it to good use?

Friend and I had made these plans weeks ago, both of us committing to the date so nothing could interfere. Two weeks ago at Lucy's, he'd told me he was intending to ask an interesting woman he'd just met out. Tonight we were going to reconvene at Lucy's to discuss what had transpired since.

After telling me it had taken him a few days to get up the nerve to first message her after we'd talked, he admitted when he finally had done it, it had been at 6 a.m. when he woke up. Before he lost his nerve.

Brilliant, I told him, surprising him. Getting a message with a time stamp like that tells a woman you are thinking of her at an unusual time. "Just don't do it at 3 a.m., right?" he guessed.

Sharing a meat and cheese plate (flank steak to die for), Lucy's big bowl of comfort (also known as beef stew with duchess potatoes) and winter salad (kale, brussels sprouts, pine nuts, lemon vinaigrette and arguably the finest kale salad in all of Richmond), I heard from my friend about their getting-to-know-each-other process.

By the second date, he found himself watching her smile and looking forward to the sight of it. At a Super Bowl party, she insisted that he sit closer than the arm of the couch, patting the seat cushion next to her. Everything was going beautifully.

"But I have a conundrum," he said. "What do I do about Valentine's Day?" A holiday admittedly fraught with danger even for those beyond the third date, I understood his dilemma. Things are going well, but you never want to overstep bounds. On the other hand, she seems interested and he doesn't want to underplay it if doing something would make her happy.

Summoning the wisdom of the ages, I made a suggestion when he said that he may have to work that night anyway. Perfect, I told him.

By being obligated for the big event, he is free to invite her to do something mid-day, a time period that doesn't carry the same romantic weight as evening. If it were me, I advised, I'd invite her to brunch or lunch that Saturday. Have a lovely meal, spend some quality time with her and go off to work.

Even better, stop by Mongrel and get one of those pithy Valentine's Day cards that address this situation. While I guarantee it was a woman who wrote them, I think they swing both ways.

I know we're not like together or anything but it felt weird to just not say anything so I got you this card. It's no big deal. It doesn't really mean anything. There isn't even a heart on it. So basically, it's a card saying hi. Forget it.

To my thinking, if she isn't won over by the charm of a mid-day meal and a self-deprecating card, she probably isn't worth the trouble. Lilacs can come later.

Now he thinks I'm the brilliant one. He gave me all kinds of thanks for the terrific dating advice. Given that my romances have spanned multiple periods in my life, I should have a little bit of experience on the subject.

Most importantly, friend, never stop watching her smile. That's romantic.

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