my heart a slightly less dark knot

Last night was the first time in two months that I stayed out past 11. It was also the first time—and I’m a little ashamed of this—that I attended the Downtown L.A. Art Walk. Turns out it’s kind of big. Like $10 parking big (unless you venture east of Los Angeles Street, in which case it drops to $5—take that, Westside scaredy cat tourists!). It’s a little too big, Amy and I quickly decided. The galleries with their intricate ceramic vases and funky peek-a-boo line drawings get eclipsed by the hordes of people clogging Spring, Main, 4th and 5th. Every cupcake shop has a DJ who drowns out your order.

But our first stop was the Harlem Place Café, where Writers’ Row was featuring a handful of local writers who only had to compete with an espresso machine and a cash register, as every writer must learn to do. Bronwyn is a small person with a big voice, and she read a snippet from her story collection The Streetwise Cycle that was perfect for the time and space: short, sweet, Downtown-centric; narrative but not overly complicated.

Afterward we took further shelter in Metropolis Books and a store (somewhat arrogantly and prematurely) named The Last Bookstore. We are nerds. We are in our 30s.

Miraculously, AK found us on a corner crowded with revelers and food trucks, and we ate late-night dim sum at Urban Noodle. Despite my strong hunch that I’m not going to be a monthly Art Walker, I was glad for the crowd. I haven’t been much for parties lately. When people ask me what I do (a tedious question on a good day), I want to say, “Progesterone and a lot of over-thinking.” But crowds are different. You can lose yourself like a small handmade vase. There are bright colors and loud, indistinguishable noises. Maybe it’s a little goth to say this, but isn’t that why groups of people do anything? To hush the sounds of death that can get so loud in your head during a long freeway commute?

This morning I read a poem by David Hernandez called “Perspective: Madame Recamier of David, 1951.”* It probably shouldn’t be a revelation that poets think about death—they’re the original goths—but it’s nice to be reminded that even contemporary, happily married ones who also write YA books do:

Yes, I understand the feeling. I also obsessed over
death and obsessed over death and obsessed
over death until I turned into a wooden coffin,

my heart a dark knot on the lid. My love rolled me
on a dolly into Dr. Branko’s office on a Friday afternoon
and lowered me onto his leather couch. I told him

about the balcony, the edge of the curb, the thoughts
that ruffled their black feathers behind my eyes.
He gave me pills the color of flamingos, and in one week

my skin softened, my heart was human again. Still,
spirals of wood grain appear on my body like a rash. Still,
when my love and I flatten the space between our bodies

with our bodies, the air is perfumed with pine,
and every splinter she tweezes out from her skin
means: I love you. Means: I’m not okay yet.

*From A House Waiting for Music (Tupelo Press, 2003). Also, for the record, I have no plans to hurl myself toward any curbs. It’s more like sometimes I feel like the curbs are tiptoeing slowly toward me.


Claire said…
I officially feel old now. I do not recall the last time I was out past 11 (even though I only recently started going to bed before 2).

"narrative but not overly complicated" - I feel like I suddenly understand where I went awry with a story I tried to tell at a party years ago.

"He gave me pills the color of flamingos, and in one week/my skin softened, my heart was human again." 1 week? Lucky him.
Cheryl said…
That's okay, pretty much every story I write has at least 12 characters in it. I would be screwed at that reading.

And Mr. Hernandez may have taken some poetic license with the flamingo pills. That's why they call it poetic license, I guess. :-)
Sizzle said…
Love the poem.

I have trouble staying out past 11 too. This is why I don't go to as many live shows anymore. For some reason 11 is when they START. Yawn. I'm feeling my age.
Cheryl said…
I've been loving the poems on your blog--yours and others'--too. It's fun to see the dialogue between two poems.
Peter Varvel said…
Be as nerdy as you want to be (and for as long as we are able to do do) before nooks and kindles bring us even closer to the actual last bookstores.
It's a always a bit strange to perceive the beauty inside of a person's pain, as least that's what I saw in this poem.
I loved your reworking of one of the poem's phrases for the title of this post.
Cheryl said…
I think "beauty inside of a person's pain" pretty much sums up the purpose of art. :-)

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