When I was thirty, we rented a little cottage in Hawaii for a week.
Jacob’s sister and her boyfriend were staying in the
damp mildewy gecko-infested shack beautiful free cottage on his dad’s house we usually stay in, so we decided to treat ourselves to a week in a new place on the other side of the island. Jacob was managing Whispertown then and helping out with day-to-day managing of some other more fancy bands I guess I’m not allowed to mention here or whatever.
(God, I loved—and god, I love—Whispertown. Go buy their stuff!)
Band managers have to be on the phone a lot, even if they’re in Hawaii for a month-long sabbatical. So while he was making his calls, every day I would walk up and down the long quiet street to the honor-system fruit stand to buy our supplies of young coconuts, tiny avocados, and bananas.
While I walked, I memorized Lady Lazarus. I was a smiling woman, and I was only thirty. I figured it was a good thing to do, even though, unlike Plath, I didn’t really plan on ending it all that year. I just like to memorize things, even though I’m not so great at it.
Poetry as shield against the world—this is my thing. Words as a way to survive and work through the miserable trashcan of the universe. Salvation through anapestic and trochaic blank verse.
So, I’m always on the lookout for new clean white lines to make my heart beat fast.
I have already written at length about how madly I am in love with Matthew Dickman, so I won’t rehash. But:
There is something happening at the shop between LM and Kate and Matthew Dickman.
Everyone knows about him because we have his poem to us on our wall, and Kate knows about him too because she used to work at the local indie bookstore and because she’s a poem-y person, but now the Dickman Cult is spreading further, infecting almost everyone at the shop.
These grrrls, man. They sit outside after their shifts and hold hands and talk about the moon for hours. The meet up before work to try out all the gyms in town (#chocolatecalisthenics is changing all of us in weird ways. I have become a jumprope addict.). They have picnics where they eat giant breakfasts and read poetry to each other. The other day we had a deep cleaning of the shop and what everyone most wanted to listen to while we scrubbed and washed and organized was an AUDIOBOOK OF SPALDING GRAY ESSAYS.****
This is my fucking LIFE, can you even believe it? Where did these genius people come from? I do not know, but I hope they stay, and attract others, and life just goes on like this forever.
So the other day both Kate and LM texted me to discuss how hard Mr. Matthew was crushing their hearts.
They were deep into his first collection, An American Poem. I envied them, then remembered I had his next book waiting on my Beyoncé table (I do not drink coffee.). I envied myself, and waited for the perfect day to get into it.
Today, on my first solitary day off in a month, I drove to that restaurant that my friends and I think we made up inside our heads, our secretest secretest place that everyone knows about because we keep writing Yelp reviews of it. My plan was to sit and read Matthew Dickman’s newish poetry collection as I ate four types of vinegary, horseradishy Northern Chinese salads and 24 dumplings.*
At a certain point as I raced through the book (the best thing about poetry is the rereading, right? So I tend to speed read the first time so I can get to the next readings, the ones where the words start to tattoo themselves onto your heart.) my heart started racing, too. I felt like I couldn’t breathe, like I was in one of those fancy iPhone photos you see where the entire world is dizzily compressed onto one little circle with you in the middle and only sky around you.**
The book was that fucking good.
I spent the next hour shoveling dumplings into my stomach so they could tame the jasmine tea monster and taking photos of pages in the book and texting them to friends with caffeinated salvos all about How Much This New Dickman Book Was Blowing My Mind.****
To my coffee-roaster friend and my coffee-obsessed boyfriend I sent “Coffee.” To Kate I sent this passage, because I know she’s starting to mourn the loss of the summer:
I made a list of recurrent themes, like I was going to write my thesis on MD or something:
Fire / matches / smoking
When Joe brought the check around, I paid and left but wasn’t done with the book, and it was that kind of thing when in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to stop normal human life in order to finish reading a book, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which book-reading compels them, and also because sometimes you just need to admit that you aren’t going to get anything done until you finish the damn book and thusly a decent respect to the opinions of poetry-kind requires that they should declare the day devoted to Dickman and that is that.
So I sat in the car in the parking lot of the strip mall (dollar store, smoke shop, bowling alley, pizzeria) during rush hour on a Wednesday with traffic buzzing all around, and when I got to the last poem, “On Earth,” my heart left my body and was run over by a truck and hastily shoved back into my sternum by children with dirty sticky fingers. And then I had to gather up all the pieces of my soul that had leaked all over the car and pat my tit where my heart was fucking bragging away, all ragged and run over and dirty and kid-sticky, and strap myself in and somehow get into first gear and drive home.
You can’t read poetry while you’re driving, so on the 45 minute (THOSE DUMPLINGS ARE FUCKING AMAZING) drive home, in order to try to return to some earthly, able-to-drive state, I decided to test myself to see if I still had the Lazarus in me.
As I was loudly reciting it over and over in the car, getting better and more accurate each time, local vegan-feminist author Nava Atlas honked at me and waved and I almost crashed into her car because I figured someone was honking at me because I was very obviously talking to myself in the car. Then lovely Nava was right next to me the entire way home and I had to Lazarus very softly so as to not look as crazy as I demonstrably am.
Then I came home and tried to do it while videotaping myself and holding Noodle. I changed into my special vintage M*A*S*H t-shirt for the occasion but you can’t see it at all. The only way I can do the poem is to say it ridiculously fast, so it’s not exactly a poetic reading. And I got weirdly extremely nervous and did a pretty terrible job, but here it is anyway.
Best night to you, internet.
Tomorrow at work I am going to make a miso and smoked-eggplant truffle.
I love you all.
*If you go, order: “Agair Vegetables w/ Horseradish Sauce (Savory tree fungus mushrooms flavored w/ chef jenny’s spices)” “Pepper Bean Curd Stick (Tofu skin w/ vegetables)” and “Flavor Green Bean Sheets” plus the cucumber salad and then ask for the off-menu tofu/scallion and mushroom/watercress dumplings that the vegans from New Paltz get—mention the name “Mark” and you’ll get the royal treatment.
**Thanks for the photo, Ryan.
***Ok ok, and then the required Beyoncé and weird Justin Timberlake to push through the last hour.
****I was the only person in the restaurant, as it was 3 PM, so I didn’t feel bad about taking up so much space and time. Also, the 75-year-old co-owner, Joe, seemed to sense that I needed no refills, no check-ins, no nothing, so he sat and read his paper, Chef Jenny chopped onions for tonight’s dinner service, and I snapped and texted and read and ate and sipped.