You know, the ones with the secret notebooks who sit there at the poetry reading flipping raggedy stained pages over and over, listening to the brave one up there reading, and thinking, hey – my stuff is this good, I’ll do this. But the chair they’re sitting in is too far away or the clapping quits too soon or goes too long and the time they semi-rise to take the moment they’re beat by by some other sweaty-handed poet. There’s defeat and safety in that second when the butt hits the bottom of the chair. Exhale.
See, what happens then is they make the decision to close the notebook or just take the goddamn room like a poetry-slinging Visigoth, and when the clapping stops for the last one I can read it all over them in bold, black, Sharpie slashes under their eyes, boiling warrior adrenaline and ready, I tell you, ready.
So when they finally do lift off their seats there’s no looking right or left, just the stark front of the room where the distance between teller and crowd is a coliseum staring you down, harboring literary expectations, demanding: Don’t. You. Dare. Suck.
And they don’t. Much.
After, the body still pumps hard-wash through them. Glazed eyes and fingers crazed, wringing that sacred notebook until the covers go soft, curl to fit in a fist. The next poet is on the floor but the last one is still blood-pressured, eye glazed, sweating into a t-shirt and writing in his head the better one for next time. When it’s over he’ll write for hours scratching cheap ballpoint pens on disfigured pages and that chemistry homework will just have to be late.