Get Your Poem On /11 My Featured Reading for the Saturn Series

It was Labor Day, so I wasn’t surprised at the modest turnout.  I was thrilled with the quality of the turnout.  Jay Chollick’s presence feels real good to me.  Everyone who attends really listens.  I can almost hear the listening.  After some open mic activity, my co-feature Robert Gibbons was introduced first.  I sat there listening to his wonderfully woven tapestries of words, color, melody, and good taste.  He even read one of my favorites which is written from the view of a basil plant.  I wondered how I would be able to follow him.  I had to catch myself and remind myself that my poems are different and that is fine.  Otherwise, I could ruin my own night.  I typically worry too much.  About most things.

I had brought a range of poems.  Some were quite old and one was written the day of the reading, and the topics varied as well.  The oldest one I read was, “If Mother Theresa Had Been Born to My Family, the Reviews Would Have Differed.”  That poem is largely in the voice of my grandmother, and I’ve grown to really enjoy reading it and having fun with it.  People giggled throughout it.  I closed with the one I wrote that day and was admittedly a first draft.  It was in response to a tragedy that took place that weekend across the street from the building where I live.  I learned about the death and then the life of a young woman who I did not know while she was alive.  The story weighed on me, and I needed to write that poem.  Similarly, I felt the need to read the poem.  Because it was a first draft, I was concerned if I was making a mistake by reading it prematurely.

I think it may be the longest poem I ever wrote.  Reading it aloud felt intense to me.  I sometimes used direct quotes from her neighbor who told me who she was.  When I sat down, one of the men attending stood up and declared, “I love your voice. You have the voice of the street.  Anything you say, I want to hear.  You speak of things others will never understand.”  Combined with my glass of wine, I felt woozy.  Some people wanted my card, and it was feeling very special.  Then something took place that was a first for me.  One listener told me that she didn’t like the word “nigger” and I should consider changing it.  They hadn’t seen the written poem, so I explained that first of all it wasn’t “er” but was “as.”  That didn’t seem to click for this person who I like very much.  Then I said I was quoting the one neighbor who seemed to actually care about her, and I wasn’t going to change his words.  I also added that he was describing a group that was multi-colored and that the word was not referring to color in this case.  This person and I like each other very much, so I was glad we let it rest.

But what struck me is this:  the person who objected is white.  When I have to check a box on a form, I, too, am white.  However, I am becoming more and more convinced that Bronx whites are a different breed of white.  The brown people at the reading had no problem with how the word “niggas” was used.  I found that interesting.

A break followed and when we returned to continue with the open mic, it was announced that the man who loved my voice was so inspired that he had to leave immediately and go do something.  He asked Su to apologize for him because he never does that and always stays to hear all the readers.  When Jay Chollick got up to read, he referred to Robert Gibbons and I as his “esteemed colleagues.”  Everyone commented that Robert and I were a very good combo.  I thought so too.  As is usually the case when I attend Su Polo’s Saturn Series, the night at Revival was very nourishing to my being.

About Mindy Matijasevic

Writer of nonfiction prose and poetry; actress; comic; adult basic education instructor. The name of this blog was inspired by a former student, Camille Williams, who once, in a conversation, used the phrase "get my learn on." I loved it, and it stuck in my head.
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