By Lara Shelton

At the time, I fancied myself a poet.

On a good night, there might be twenty of us. Some of us came and went. You could usually tell who wasn’t going to stick around because they would come with a little notepad or a carefully typed-out manuscript, and they would order a beer and place it before them on the table like a novitiate’s candle. Or they would come in with a bunch of friends–a traveling fan club which encircled them like a layer of bubble wrap, insulating them from the rougher members of the group.

Some of them were pretty rough. There was the guy who told me, bleary-eyed, that he had written his poem for the night on a sanitary napkin because the muse had taken hold of him and he had been tossing and turning for hours, and the only place he could find paper was in the women’s bathroom at the bar below his apartment. There was the woman who had a facial tattoo of Rimbaud’s quote Misfortune is my god.

These were my people.

There were public readings involved. The “scene”, as I called it in my head, consisted of a lot of drinking in bars, a stage usually made up of a couple of moving pallets with a piece of cardboard and some old carpet thrown over them, and all of the characters I mentioned above, along with a lot of drunken wannabe screenwriters.

There was a hierarchy. First the man who founded the reading night, he was most important, because he had published a chapbook that had gotten him noticed by a certain popular singer who then paid him a shitload of money to plagiarize his poem and add a good-time chorus. As I said, he was first, then anyone who had made it into his inner circle by being sycophantic enough to cut through his alcohol haze. They came next. If you were a hot enough girl, and his type, you could sometimes worm your way into this circle without having to be sycophantic to excess. I was a hot enough girl. Meaning, I was blonde and had no visible facial scarring.

Des'ree square 2So, in the beginning, even though I liked to hide in the darkest corner of the bar with the people who desperately scrawled their poetry on coffee filters in the middle of the night, and we liked to laugh hoarsely and share cigarettes and trash talk,  I came in the mid-section of the evening, between the guy who had founded the reading night and the people at the end–my people–the ones who liked to go dark. I was just a blonde with no visible facial scarring some poetic pretensions that had been stoked by winning a high-school writing contest.

What is it about older guys and sexualizing fatherhood? Why do older guys always want to think that you’re going to find them sexy because they’re more accomplished than you are? What is that about?

I was about to find out. First I got noticed, for being angry and bruised. Or at least for having angry and bruised poetry. When I look back on it now, it’s utterly ridiculous. I was angry, sure, but I was unbruised as a Whole Foods Asian pear. I had been wrapped in the styrofoam netting of privilege since I was young. Not the privilege of money, exactly, but the privilege of a stable childhood in a safe environment. But somehow being angry and bruised seemed more appealing than good schools and a two-car garage on a cul-de-sac, and so that’s what I spewed forth.

But I think he thought that I was damaged goods. And damaged goods come cheap.

Des'ree square 1Or maybe he wanted to save me, somehow. Maybe he wanted to stand up in his Bukowski sweater and point his fatherly finger in a fatherly direction and show me the way. Either way, there was an implied intimacy, and an implication that I should somehow be grateful. All while my own father, my real father, was probably at home watching 60 Minutes in the wood-paneled rec room.

I didn’t sense anything weird at first. I thought, foolishly, that it was merit which singled me out.

When he began to move me forward in the line-up I thought that was merit too.

Except, I was running out of new poems. The anger which had fueled the first dozen or so, once I had exhausted it, began to feel less and less authentic. But I had started off writing in a certain vein, and couldn’t exactly show up with hearts and flowers.

When I got there, things felt different. The people that I had bonded with looked at me like I was a traitor. When he announced that I was to come first, right after him, they sniggered behind my back. And when I looked at the material I had brought, I realized I was going to crash and burn.

So instead I got up and recited the lyrics to this song, which I had heard on the radio on the way over:

Life, oh life, oh life, oh life,
Doo, doot doot dooo.
Life, oh life, oh life, oh life,
Doo, doot dooo

I’m afraid of the dark,
Especially when I’m in a park
And there’s no-one else around,
Oh, I get the shivers

I don’t want to see a ghost,
It’s a sight that I fear most
I’d rather have a piece of toast
And watch the evening news

Life, oh life, oh life, oh life,
Doo, doot doot dooo.
Life, oh life, oh life, oh life,
Doo, doot dooo

Needless to say, I didn’t go back the next week.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s