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Reading at Palazzo Strozzi 6.4.14

Quiet and timeless, this room. Untouchable. All the old books behind beautiful cages of iron. They all look the same. Ancient and sand colored, full of wisdom in a language I can’t read. Another thing that can’t be touched. My skin may brush against it but I don’t make contact. I’ve lost that ability. I simply hover. Feeling too much and never touching a damn thing. It’s a trick I’ve come to master.

I want to grip things. Squeeze them in my fists until they lie limp. But instead I keep distance. Afraid of the impact. Something could swallow me whole. I merely fill holes and keep looking for the leak. And I almost laugh when Dottie says, “Sadness, it’s a public feeling.” She’s the first poet to read.

She’s all sadness masked in gladness and bright streaks of color and wild hair and lipstick on her teeth. And I want to hug her. The microphone is buzzing and she speaks in a child’s voice, unkempt, it almost hurts to listen, but the words are too good to shut my ears. There’s something simple and tragic stuck in her.

Everyone is sitting in these big-throne like chairs, isolated and waiting for something grand to happen. Something with magic in it. It’s funny trying to plan a thing like that. And I think, can it happen if we’re waiting for it? Or is it the orgasm that never comes because you wore the sexy lingerie and lit a candle and shaved your legs and then find yourself wondering why it was so good on the kitchen tile the other day with the man you hadn’t planned on. And then I think maybe I’m just not fit for this kind of thing. All pretty and nostalgic and full of class. Everything in its place. Maybe I’m fit for the other thing. The thing that happens with a beer in my hand in a friend’s backyard, where someone pulls a crumpled sheet from within their pocket and suddenly the whole crowd is humming with the delight of unexpected words that feel good to the insides.

But then her words hit me again. “Get your cut up heart away from what you think you know.” What do I know? Not a single thing. I know I’m happy and confused and sad and that’s as far as it goes.

She asks if the sound is ok but no one answers. Someone swivels over to the sound mixer and turns some knobs and the pitch becomes tolerable. No one was willing to tell her no but now everyone breaths a sigh of relief. The air relaxes.

“All you can hope for is people who put the calm in you,” she says, and all I can think is where’s that girl with those blue eyes, that mouth that makes my mind go dead. Or where’s that boy who likes to take me to bed. Filling my bed to replace a space some man left.

I’m just looking for someone to put the calm in me.

 “It took a while, now I am me,” she says. I cross and uncross my legs. I should go to the gym, I think. God, when will I be me?

Eileen reads next and I’m a man after her own heart. And D’s words are still ringing in my head. “I am a fucking man. A weird ass fucking man.” And I think sure. A girl can be a man. Here is one now. And me too. I find it more comfortable these days. Being a girl just hurts too damn much. I’m gonna be a weird ass fucking man from now on. I’ll put my shield on, love em and leave em, smoke cigarettes and drink too much. Who’s to say I can’t. I can be tough too, or at least pretend. Fall in love with every thing I see. For the night. Feel powerful, flex my muscles, skip sentimentalities, hide my heart.

Her Boston accent dominates when she reads her poems. I think of the Boston Brians I know back home. Those are men. I want to be like them. Eileen could be in their tribe. And her worn in jeans and beat shoes give me comfort. And I think, here’s a human made of steel with skin like paper around her chest. Salty-sweet. I want to be like that. “A man, a weird ass fucking man.”

She’s got these pink ribbons sticking out of her plaid suit pocket. A wreath she doesn’t wear on her head but still keeps near her body. A souvenir picked up at the castle we visited Monday. She seems too hard-boiled to want a thing like that. It charms me.

“Get your cut up heart away from what you think you know,” I say to myself. She’s more tender than the rest.

She starts talking about the flattened rats in the street in New York and I start thinking about Les and some pages he wrote about meat that fell out of a truck and lay in the street. I think about his body falling from that apartment building. I think about why he jumped. Meat in the street.

And I miss his wandering eye, the one that looks off into some other world, and his crumpled shirts and wrinkled face and missing teeth and mismatched socks and crazy hair and the chocolates he doled out after class leaving the rest for the evening cleaning crew and the way he taught me to put words on a page.


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