We went to see a poetry reading
In a pub up from the ocean by a few blocks.
We had woken early for a swim,
spent the day walking the streets
And now it was late, and we were tired.
We took a seat toward the back of the room
And ordered some drinks and some fried food.
Soon the room was full of people sitting at small round tables
Talking and laughing, drinking expensive wine.
A woman with short spiky hair went to the front of the room,
Then announced the beginning of the poetry.
A thin man wearing a hat and a bow tie
Ran on stage, the crowd cheered him.
He taught literature at the local university; he said hello to his students in the crowd
then he began to read poetry about sex.
He went on about the women he knew
And the sex he had.
He told us about leaving one woman because she wouldn’t make the bed
And another who he left after the second child.
It was good poetry, but the guy was just doing it for attention.
He had no soul.
A few young kids stood up,
Their poetry was deep and they had no doubt
They’d change the world
But it was all tired stuff you can hear in any town on any night.
This old guy stood up at last
And he shuffled to the microphone.
Never once looking up at the crowd,
Stepping from foot to foot,
mumbling his lines as he read.
He spoke about memories and love,
He spoke about hatred and loss.
His voice cracked and when he finished he walked off again
As if he hated everyone in the room.
The audience clapped politely, but not for long.
The old man’s face was like a wet bag, and it was swollen like it had been stung
And his poetry was no better than anyone else’s,
But it felt real.
As we walked back to our hotel room that night,
I saw him crawling in under the veranda of an ice-cream shop
He turned to pull some timber over the hole he crawled through.
His face shone in the street light for a moment.
He lived under the street and wrote poetry.
No wonder everyone hated him, he was showing them all up.