(From a writing prompt from Judith Dancoff. Unedited.)
The girl poet was stationed carefully between the young coconuts and the Himalayan sea salt section. This is the biggest Whole Foods in the world and it is a Sunday afternoon and she has staked out her spot. She has her mic set up and a stand and is expressively boho. Not too boho, just boho enough. She is hippie with a dash of hipster and a shake of Pilates. She is ready to speak. She approaches the microphone as a lover, embraces the 80’s soundtrack that floats over frozen food cases and wafts comfort to the 40 and 50-something shoppers. She is not barefoot. That would be too much. Nor is she wearing Tom’s shoes. Though she thinks that might make it all more profitable.
“Poems for sale! Poems for sale! Raw organic local poems for sale! “
She has taken stage. The audience is confused, but this cannot daunt a girl poet. Poetry audiences are often confused. She has performed in every imaginable place, she has performed in pubs where people are ten pints into tomorrow’s hangover. She has performed in prisons and public schools in town squares and even at the Phillipino Festival in San Pedro – even though she is not a Phillipina. But she’s honorary and makes a mean vegetarian chicken adobo.
“Cliches for sale! Get your fresh clichés right here!”
She chants to the shoppers pushing their carts – ancestors to the walkers they will all soon have to have.
This well-dressed crowd. This body articulated gluten free range crowd. They don’t want the poetry. e.e. cummings is not who they reach for at 3a.m. On insomniac nights, and there are many, they reach for remotes and streaming video. Now they stroll through aisles as familiar as freeways and collect the masses of things that become trash and compost when they neglect to remember they have purchased them, as they take for granted the abundance that flows so freely here, yet is so heavily metered and taxed elsewhere.
“Feel good words here! Feel better fast now today! Get your spirit in line with your body! Be here now!”
She is loud and in her own heart rhythm. She is calling them with the words they know, the ones Oprah taught them – she is doing it and she is wondering will they find her. Her job is to listen. Not watch – listen. She listens to them and amidst all the noise of 90’s hip hop and arguing couples and children wanting chocolate and moms wanting a little personal time, she listens to see if they are hearing her.
“Free poetry samples! Free poetry samples!”
Moments like these, she wishes she could sing. Wishes she had a sweet dove in her throat who would fly lightly around the heads of these people and give them the succor they most need. She has preached to the converted – they all have. This is what poets do while they’re alive – preach to the converted. A few get lucky and die and then get found. She wonders if Rumi knows how famous he is now.
Wondering about Rumi is not listening – so she takes her attention back. She always wonders who will stop first – who will stop what they are doing and stand before her and just stay there while she speaks. Once, it was a little girl. Six years old. Brownish-blonde wavy hair, holding a stuffed lion, and transfixed by her. She didn’t know if the little girl was understanding the words, but the movement of her hands, like an Indian dancer, the soft sway of her hips, the sound of her voice – that was compelling. She wanted to write a poem of the little girl’s life right there right then for her to have and take forward on her journey. She wanted to give the girl a new kind of storybook to read before bedtime. Mostly, she wanted no trouble for this girl, but for her to go through her life following the same tiny force that kept her standing in front of the poet at the microphone. Danny Peck once said, “The only songs I want to sing tonight are the ones I haven’t written yet, “ and in that moment, she felt that – wish she could freestyle a lifeline long and adventurous and safe for the little girl. Lately, Theresa Davis had said to her, “Don’t expect life to bubble wrap itself for you.” This is what she feared for the little girl. That she’s become a shopper like these. In that moment, eyes connected and a little speechless, an agitated hand grabbed the little girl and pulled her away with a “where have you been, I’ve been down every aisle looking for you.” She sent the girl away with a prayer for a beautiful life and returned to the mic.
As she caught herself in that reverie, she suddenly realized what had happened. In front of her, carts like armor before them, were 12 or so shoppers – mostly female, mostly 40’s, intently bent on her. As she came back to herself, she realized in full flower, she had just written that song she had wanted to sing – she just opened her throat chakra she just told that story; she just freestyled a lifeline.