It always wracks my nerves to stand up with a microphone in a busy bar and introduce my 4th Monday Easy Speak. An exodus usually follows, leaving behind our motley bunch of poet-stragglers huddled in booths with beer.
But last night, no one headed for the door. Yes, there were some surprised looks of WTF, but everyone quickly settled-in to the evening — and a remarkable and uncharacteristic quiet descended upon the low-lit room.
Once past the intro, my resident butterflies calm themselves down, and I begin to enjoy myself.
Last night there were about a dozen readers, and not enough musicians. (One of the poets played one song on one ukelele.) There's always some droning, almost always some yelling, but mostly it's pretty damned good writing, well-presented. We're lucky. I'm lucky.
After everyone on the sign-up sheet had stood his/her time at the podium, I wrapped up the evening with the usual banter, said good-night, and went to turn off the microphone, when an older man sitting at the bar asked if he could say something.
Well, of course I said yes, and he came up to the mic and introduced himself, said he was from Somalia, and that in his country, everyone loves poetry.
"In Somalia, poetry is organic. Everyone can recite poems. Poetry is very important to us!"
He went on for a few minutes speaking of the poetry scene in Somalia, then went to sit down when a cry came up from the assembled crowd:
"Recite something for us!"
And so he did, in his language (Somali? Arabic?), and not recited but sung. Sung! It was a little bit of magic, even not knowing the words.
I like to call these unplanned participants my happenstance poets. It's occurred only a handful of times in the past year, always someone who just happened to be at the Hummingbird Saloon on the 4th Monday. They stay, they listen, and they decide to go for their own spontaneous five minutes at the mic. And each time, it's been a bright sparkle layered upon the already inspired recitations of an evening.
Ali — last night's Somali poet — drew the heartiest applause of the evening.
I always feel a glow, a fullness of heart when the open mic is over and my poet-friends and I hunker down for the next hour or so crowded into booths. Someone almost always orders Tater Tots.
The post-poetry poets' exodus is a slow trickle of good-byes. When we're done, the bar swells with late-night patrons and the sound of pinball machines. The jukebox pounds out a bass line.
We laugh and deconstruct the evening, catch up on poetry gossip. We laugh some more.
'Round about 11:30pm, I glance at the time, curse my early next-day rising, settle up the bill.
It's a mile to my house, and in the few minutes it takes to drive home, I wonder, every time, why those butterflies, every time?
Maybe one of these months they won't be there. But I'll tell you: they're worth it, and they're short-lived. Last night's happenstance poet was the evidence I needed, the reminder to keep going despite my vexing anxieties.
I remind myself: I'm lucky. Again.