The girl who sat in front of us turned around and glanced at us briefly.
“Maybe you want to keep your voice down?” I whispered.
“Honestly, I don’t get any of this stuff. I don’t get any of this at all.” His voice was much lower this time.
“Then why are you here in the first place?”
“I can’t say no to her. She’s a poet, or at least she thinks she’s a poet. I’m here to give her emotional support.” He nodded to the girl standing next to the Suspense shelf. She noticed us looking at her and she smiled and waved her hand. Marco smiled and waved back.
“Why did you invite me?” I said.
“I thought you’d find this amusing,” he said.
“You mean poetry? You find poetry amusing?”
“I told you, none of this stuff makes any sense to me. I find that amusing.”
His girlfriend walked over to the center of the room, held the microphone, and adjusted the height of the stand.
“Hi,” she began. There was a bit of feedback and Marco rubbed his ear.
“Sorry about that,” she continued. “Good evening, guys. I’m Valerie and I’m going to be reading a poem I wrote just last night. I was alone in my room and I couldn’t sleep.” She unfolded a piece of paper from her pocket and held it up against the light. “It’s called…”
“Go, hon, you can do it!” Marco cheered her on. “Don’t be nervous.”
She glared at him as if to say, “I’m not nervous”. But she just pursed her lips. Everybody turned to look at Marco. I shrank at my seat.
“I love you,” he said. The audience laughed.
“It’s called Mistranslating Amina Said,” she continued. “She’s a French poet.”
A hush fell over the room.
“I sold my language,” she began to read. “To reach the port of Venice.”
Marco suppressed a chuckle, but it was barely audible.
“Cautious, I wore a hat/ Yes, I wore a hat/ A luminous hat/ But my identity they/ Exposed even before/ I could make the voyage.”
Marco was the first to applaud. He clapped so enthusiastically that everybody felt obliged to follow suit. She smiled.
“Thank you, Valerie, for that interesting poem,” the host said. “Who’s next?”
“I have another one,” Valerie said. “It’s called Hidden Name.”
“That’s nice, Val, but as we explained earlier we want to limit ourselves to just one poem per person so as to give the others the opportunity to share their own poems tonight,” the host said.
“This one’s really short so it wouldn’t take too much of your time,” Valerie said. “I promise.” She smiled at the crowd nervously and began reading her other poem before the host could say another word. It was written on the other side of the same paper.
“Adjacent the brick wall on which/ Is posted the list of rules needed/ To uncover the phrase that lures/ The unthinking, gullible, and/ Impressionable…” She rattled on in a hurry.
“Oh, I love this one,” Marco said. “This one’s my favorite.”
“Stood the man who/ Countless calendars ago was/ Naive, who looked at the world/ With ravenous wonder,” she said.
“Did you get any of that?” Marco whispered.
“Now, the/ Nuclear reality that is life/ Rejected his wishes and dreams/ And his questions are still/ Unanswered,” she said.
“What’s ‘the nuclear reality’?” he whispered.
“Not that it is in the/ Least daunting for us, no,” she said.
“No,” he whispered.
“But it is/ Clear that if you want to declare/ His name to the world, all you/ Need to do is adjust your/ Inner ear,” she said.
Marco promptly pressed his left ear.
“Then, readjust the lance/ Which pierces the dying candle./ It’s not reel life, but real life. It/ May be an arcane method, still/ It works. What else can explain/ The sudden appearance of red/ Deers in a sea of dry reeds?” she said.
“Yes, what else?” he whispered.
“The nude rascal did away with/ The need to hide his nerdiness/ Rending his sandals to see/ The clues hidden in a bowl of/ Fresh salad,” she said.
“Nude rascal? I’m starting to think that this poem is dedicated to me,” he whispered.
“The scent, however/ Provided more clues as to the/ Nature of the unearthly tune,” she said.
“The scent of burnt sandal in a salad bowl,” he whispered.
“In an/ Era where the just have ears and/ Candles are lit to show the way for the/ Rest of us, the sea simply retreated/ From the shore and cradled us in jest,” she said.
“Magnificent, simply magnificent. The imagery-saturated lines are unparalleled in their power and beauty,” he whispered. Then he exclaimed, “Well done, hon. Well done.” He applauded eagerly. There was a handful of clapping scattered across the room.
She did not look up at him. She folded the paper quietly and methodically. The host moved in quickly to take the microphone.
“Thank you very much, Valerie,” the host said. “That was again very, uh, interesting. Thank you for your enthusiasm and passion. I’m sure there are many others here who are just as passionate as you are who are waiting for their turn. Now, let’s see, who wants to go next?”
Half of the crowd raised their hands.
“Please,” Valerie raised her voice. “Can I recite one last poem? I promise you, this one is way shorter than the previous one. I had this memorized. It’s so ridiculously short that you wouldn’t mind the extra seconds of waiting. Just a few lines. Please.”
“I’m sorry, Valerie, I really can’t allow that. Each of us are only allotted one poem. You read two. Let’s give the others a chance, shall we?” The host flashed an awkward smile. “Okay, the gentleman at the back. Yes, you, sir, the one with the orange shirt. The floor is yours.”
Valerie was still standing next to the host. She covered her face with her hands. Her shoulders shook a little then we all heard her sob. The sobbing grew louder.
“Oh, babe, babe, babe.” Marco stood up, moved forward, and embraced her. “It’s okay, babe, it’s alright. I’m here. It’s okay. You’re okay. That was great. I’m so proud of you.” He rubbed her shoulders and escorted her down the aisle and out of the bookshop. The crowd looked on in disbelief. Some snickered.
“Well, okay, where were we?” the host said. “Oh, right. Now, if you please, sir. The mic is yours.”
The guy from the edge of the room took the microphone and cleared his throat. “Um, hi. My name’s Leo. This is my first time here. I’m a bit nervous,” he said. “I call this poem I Am Tired of Flying.”
We heard Valerie’s voice from outside. She was screaming her lungs out. “This is all your fault! You ruined me. You ruined my dreams. You humiliated me in front of all those people. You killed poetry. You murdered my art. It’s over between us, do you hear me? Over!”
And all was quiet. Then a car honked a few times. The guy with the microphone looked at the host. The host looked at me. I looked at her. At that moment I felt like I could write her a poem. I began to form a few words inside my head: “Her face glowed like gold/ As the yellow light beamed/ Down on her face…”
“I’m sorry, who’s tired of flying?” the host said. No one else was listening.