Poet for Hire

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September

The last few days I’ve been debauching myself in theatre dressing rooms after acting in a play by a friend of mine about love. Then the sidewalks, the cigarettes sanding my throat, the parade of faces, the pointless stories, the strange bachelor party that has suddenly taken over the bar.

It must be the end of summer. So waking up in time to set up my typewriter at the farmer’s market is a challenge, made easier by the last crumb of Adderol. (If amphetamine is good enough for Russian cosmonauts, it’s good enough for me.) I ask the guy at the coffee kiosk to crush up a few ibuprofen into my cup but he just looks at me funny.

Was it worth it? Does our bed’s cocoon serve us better? Relative to what? If I died tomorrow — hit by bus, meteor strike, brain-eating amoeba — I know what my answer would be. For now, who knows — and right now the wind is blowing so hard that it’s simply impossible to sell books, and even my poems are flying across the park until strangers stamp on them like cockroaches and run to me to give them back, smiling. I eat a greasy sandwich which is pure light, and read the New Yorker article about refugees and also an excellent poem about loathing selfies, while pulling the brim of my hat down so no one will talk to me.

The spell is broken by the gorgeous farmer, who asks for a poem about bottlegourds and pays for it with vegetables. I don’t know what the hell a bottlegourd looks like, so I go to the radical farmers’ stand — the ones who left the three volumes of Trotsky in a milk crate on their lawn for me to find. The bottlegourds are huge and heavy and mint green. I think of molotov cocktails, its stem a fuse. Or a wick — candles? No — bottles, bottles, stick with bottles. The stem is a cork, summer is pouring out; I run back to the typewriter.

 

Bottlegourd (1) 

 At first, instead of ‘where you found me, ripening,’ I had ‘where you saved me/from myself’ — but I could hear my workshop group in the seashell of my ear, whispering to change it to something more vague and pleasant…

She’s so mysterious. I can’t tell if she likes it. I think she does. I fill a bag with peppers, cilantro, radishes, chard. Is she coming to the potluck on Sunday, at the house where we both used to live? Yes. She took my small room when I left. But the last time I saw her was in New Orleans. She biked there, thousands of miles — and was staying on a monk’s cot in a storage room filled with eccentric art pieces in a dilapidated mansion on Magazine Street. We spent several hours eating oysters and drinking and she invited me back to her room, but she’s so indecipherable that I still wasn’t sure if she wanted me to kiss her. I was dying to — amid stacks of plaster molds of a surreal Virgin Mary, and her imperious bicycle watching us disinterestedly in the corner.

I don’t know why, but I practically bolted out of there. Now I realize what I should have said: “Do you want me to kiss you?” But I think in some bizarre way I was savoring the mystery of it, the not-knowing.

Good God: farmers are so much more attractive than the city intellectuals and artists and yoga mat-toting health nuts with squiggly tattoos who make up a large portion of Burlington, Vermont’s population. I think it’s their hands. Farmers have a strong grip, rough palms, dirt under their fingernails. Their skin turns the color of honey. And they don’t give a damn what they look like, don’t spend most of their day staring into the crystal ball of their phone.

But there’s no time to think of that anymore, because the high school science teacher who saved my life once has spotted me — he’s in town for his son’s birthday. Asks for a poem about staring down the barrel of a gun — something a veteran told him when he announced during his community college class that his cancer complications might make him drop any moment. And he also asks for one to give to his son, who’s turning 30.

Birthday poems are easy — I write so many that I often re-mix the imagery a bit: elliptical paths of celestial bodies, defying calendars and gravity, etc. The other one is tricky — I’ve only just started it when he comes back — (It’s dark in there/that single eye un- blinking/that grooved waiting maw) He has to leave; I tell him I’ll mail it to him.

The church bells are tolling. I pack up and walk home through the new carpet of fallen leaves, crushed paper. This is how I want to remember it, this little city I came of age in. In 10 days I’ll be in California, steaming back and forth across the bay between Oakland and SF, with nothing but a backpack and my typer, a stack of books and a change of clothes.

 

BENJAMIN ALESHIRE is an artist based in New Orleans, with writing forthcoming in Boston Review. He works as a poet-for-hire, and as assistant poetry editor for the Green Mountains Review, and founding editor of Honeybee Press. He has been awarded a Creation Grant from the VT Arts Council, and the Chighizola Poetry Award from the University of New Orleans. 

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