That One Time I Was Spontaneous
My time here is coming to a close (for now!), so in the midst of all the hustle to get things ready to leave (how do I bring a whole stack of books and journals home with me in one suitcase under 50 pounds?! Yes, they are all important! Yes, I’ve already purged.), I’ve been doing a lot of involuntary reflecting: What were my goals in moving to Madrid? What did I accomplish? What did I lose sight of? What are some of my lowest moments? What are some of my highest, weirdest, most awkward? . . . or all three at once?
Like the time I dragged my friend Grace to a spur-of-the-moment poetry reading.
I looked across to the woman sitting in the train seat facing mine. Tired and bored, I watched her take out a big, leather-bound portfolio and begin discussing the papers inside with the man (also leather-bound) sitting next to me. She whispered across the aisle and wrote notes in red pen on the pages. She seemed tired and sick — her fingers constantly pressed to her temples. At one point she pulled an ice cube from her bag on the floor and began rubbing it across her forehead, wincing as some college students boarded the train, their loud voices and laughter carrying down to us. Who carries ice-cubes around with them? I thought, intrigued.
The pages caught my attention. Were those poems? They were structured like poems. If anyone could look like a poet, she did: frizzy, curly blonde hair, loose and exotic clothing, a fringed shawl pulled across her shoulders. She sat still and tall and spoke in measured whispers. Besides, a poet would carry ice-cubes around, for sure.
I’m not sure what it was that made me want to start talking to her. Probably my rude and nosy American curiosity. All of a sudden I was filled with an urge to speak to her, ask her if she was a poet. I practiced the crude Spanish question in my head over and over again: Tu eres una poeta? Tu eres una poeta? But what would that lead to? People don’t talk to each other on the train. Just leave her alone. Don’t be annoying.
But the question wouldn’t stop repeating itself in my head. I felt nervous energy surge outwards: “Perdona?” I blurted. She looked at me, not in a necessarily friendly way. “Tu eres una poeta?” I asked timid, aware that I was probably breaking a million train taboo rules.
My brain rushed to think of a reply.
“Tienes un libro o no?”
She smiled a little.
Miraculously, we carried on in Spanish a bit more. Then, as usually occurs here, she kindly switched to English. I gushed like a fan, as if I had always dreamed of meeting her. We carried on more small talk — poetry, Spanish, where I was from, what I am doing in Spain, etc. etc.
“Actually, my partner and I are on our way to perform at a poetry reading right now. There will be other really great poets there. You should come.”
My face probably fell a little. Right now? Like in thirty minutes? It’s late. I haven’t planned. I haven’t eaten dinner. I’m sure I have other things I need to do. I just want to go home and go to sleep.
“But you probably already have plans.”
What is wrong with me? Am I an eighty-year old? Why can’t I go to a poetry reading on a Wednesday night after work? 8:30 is not that late. Just be spontaneous, for once in your life!
She gave me the information, and I excitedly texted my roommates, begging them to come with me. Suddenly, I was determined. Full of energy and excitement. I practically flew home. I had followed my stupid gut and spoke to a stranger on the train in Spanish. No big feat for some, but for me . . . all new. And I had met a poet and I was going to a cool poetry reading and I was being spontaneous. Who even am I anymore?! I was practically jumping as ran home to grab Grace who had graciously agreed to go. My roommates smiled, amused with my strange fan-girling: “I met a real poet on the train!”
Grace and I headed to the location. The pictures on Google maps looked like a big auditorium, and we prepared to sneak into a full auditorium a bit late or find a seat at the back of a packed café.
At the address, we pulled open large, noisy heavy doors to see ten people in a small, hip room turn to us. We stepped just inside the door, unsure of where to go. Finally, a woman across the room waved us over to pay the small entry fee. Everyone seemed to know each other and mingled around the room, greeting each other with big hugs. We were obviously outsiders. We found two uncomfortable stools in the small circle of seats, and I avoided eye contact with what I had begun to refer to in my mind as “my poet.”
We waited in awkward silence, the only ones sitting, for the beginning. A few more people entered, and eventually, the poetry reading began in a room of 25 people, at most. Grace and I sat quietly and uncomfortably, struggling to understand what was being said and hoping it wouldn’t last too long.
More frizzy haired women read. Gongs were beat. Dried leaves were crumpled onto the ground. Stanzas were whispered and then yelled. The intimate room was full of hipster glasses and vintage dresses and pulled-tight, fringy shawls and lap blankets. As well as a chance to read your own work (which was answered with awkward silence). We all leaned in, engaged. Although, there was more straining on my part. I understood few words: mountain, blood, flowers, death, youth, me. And yet, was moved by the whole experience.
As soon as it seemed the reading was over, Grace and I ran to the door, afraid we might be forced into awkward, Spanish contact.
Months later, I saw my poet once more in the town where I teach and she lives. I stopped myself from saying hi and fan-girling all over her vintage trench coat and perfectly poetic spirals.
P.S. My poet has a name. And a website.