The day was Sunday and, having nothing to do for once, I decided on a spur of the moment trip to Manhattan where I wandered aimlessly until I would up some forty blocks north of where I started at the entrance to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I bought myself a student-price ticket and went in. There I spent several very enjoyable hours wandering its cooled and echoing halls admiring the art both visual and tactile, before agreeing with myself that it was time to go. Not being able to find the exit, i eventually fell to retracing my steps through the exhibits, going backwards with a curious sense of rewinding time at a speeded pace, until I finally came to the place where I had first entered. While I had been inside the sky had darkened from blue to the threatening gray that generally heralds summer squalls, but the sun was still shining from the west in that way it sometimes does, and when I stepped out of the museum, the first drop of rain fell squarely on my forehead, like a christening. I didn't reach up to wipe it off. I spent a few minutes sitting on the front steps of the Met which were still quite warm from earlier in the day, watching the people come and the people go until the rain started coming down even harder and I figured I'd better get going so I got up and walked, smiling, back the way I had come
Now, on my walk up I had passed a man sitting on a bench on the park side of 5th Avenue with a typewriter and a cardboard sign at his feet offering poems for a "suggested donation" of $2. As I passed him on my way there I considered stopping but didn't, telling myself that if he was still there when I got back then it was meant to be and I would buy a poem. But I had stayed later at the museum than I had planned and with the rain coming down ever harder I didn't expect to see him again. I started berating myself for not stopping when I had the chance, for though I told myself I didn't really need the poem, I was sorely disappointed, as if I had lost something very valuable. I knew it shouldn't matter, but I was upset in my heart nonetheless.
But when I hit 75th Street going south, there he was, hat over his typewriter to protect it from the wet, hands clasped in front of him as he bent over his knees. So I walked up to him and asked what kind of poems his were. He looked up at me very slowly, starting with my shoes covered in the grime of city streets and transferring some of that onto my feet because they were only sandals. When his rising eyes met mine he said in a voice even softer than mine, "Whatever kind you want." Only a bus was going by just then so I hardly heard him and had to lean in very close and ask him to repeat it once more, which he then did. So I looked down and told his honey-coloured eyes to write "Your favorite." "My favorite," he said, and put his head down on his knees, eyes closed, hands clasped in front of him. He stayed like that for a long time as the rain started to let up, and then as quickly as it had come, the rain stopped. I had had visions of arriving at the station soaked to the skin and suffering through a wet and viciously air-conditioned ride home, but it then appeared that my fears were unfounded. I noticed his hair, soft as his voice and a dark honey colour as well, thin and gently curling. The hot breeze was playing tricks with it while he wasn't watching. Just the my poet straightened up and held my eyes for another long moment before removing his hat from the typewriter to his head and beginning to type. When he had finished he carefully creased his sheet of paper below where my poem ended, moistened the crease with his tongue, gently tore off what he had written and handed his words to me, honey-eyes still locked on mine. I read it through quickly and my heart skipped and stuttered a bit. Meeting his eyes again I said, "It's a good one," and handed him two five-dollar bills. $10, instead of the requested two. He said thank you very much in the same low soft tone and I said have a nice day and even though I knew he was still watching where my eyes would have been, I didn't look back until I was ten blocks south. When I did turn around of course he was far out of sight, and a curiously hot wind from the north knocked about my legs and ushered me towards my train. When I reached the station I was dry and silent. I had made it to my train thirty minutes early. When I looked down at the heart locket on my necklace which perpetually hangs open because the clasp is broken, I noticed that my entire chest (and probably neck too although I couldn't see) was a blotchy red, like my mother's turns when she gets upset or very emotional. I wondered if it had looked like that when the poet met my eyes. I sat down in the second car and turned my body to the window to hide the marks, watching the reflection of my eyelashes in the glass that looked out onto the dark of the tunnel, and waited for the train to move.
I haven't told anyone about this encounter; it feels too... I don't know, too something to speak out loud, but I needed to put it down somehow and I feel like you're the right person to tell. I don't know if I'll tell anyone else...
Oh, the poem that scared me and set me wondering even as I fell in love with it he composed on the spot after looking into my eyes. I'll always wonder how he did:
A woman's heart is a museum
Whose chambers echo. Speak nothing
Which might suggest you should not
July 11th 2010