Fifteen Minutes with a Real Poet

The day I met a real poet
the air in the room felt stubborn, elastic
my lungs tugged at it
but the air pulled back, taffy-like
and quickly withdrew

My heart felt glassy, chilled
as I crossed the room to the sitting poet’s smiling form
My elbow tucked against my ribs
like a hurt wing
cradling my own poetry
I anticipated a meeting of great minds
as if we were in fact across campus
somewhere in the natural sciences complex
not here in humanities
Two pioneering researchers
about to study under microscope, a groundbreaking cure
my special microbes of carefully selected words
that would enable some fantastic cure
for sleeplessness, heartache, loneliness

The poet breezily regarded my poems
as one leafs through a waiting room magazine
explaining he had already read them in advance
Perhaps he uttered some platitudes
But I couldn’t hear distinctly enough
My nervousness had fully effervesced
and condensed in my ears, blocked them somewhat

He brought out his own work—
a rough draft of a new poem
He described his current struggle—to find the exact phrasing he needed to convey
the simple act of cutting into the season’s first cucumber
from his dead father’s vegetable garden
I glanced at my cast aside poems at his elbow
lying on the shiny oak conference room table
wondered idly if the table and paper
were distant relations, two examples of wasted trees

He tore off a small triangle of one of my poems
Flipped it over, and quickly scratched with his pen
He sat back, pleased, slid the paper toward me
As if a quiet transaction were taking place, a bargaining
He liked the phrase, “like—so”, for his poem
to describe the cutting motion
into a freshly harvested cucumber

Sure, it was good, I could see it
the sound of “like” mimicking the chopping sound of a sharp blade
the “l” sliding along the cucumber’s hard green casing
the hard “k” conveying the tactile burst of breaking through
the whispering “so”, as the blade fell through the vegetable’s soft, wet innards
I knew the feeling

I stood to leave—but wait, he said
and pushed the jagged yellow paper scrap toward me
I meant for you to keep this, he said
I wish I had turned on my heel
and refused the presumptuous offering, but I didn’t
I took the token scrap
nodded at his flushed, satisfied face
I stuffed the useless, humiliating triangle
into my pocket
and crushed it to death, right there
interred it upon a ragged death bed of pocket lint

As I walked back out, I drew my own knife
and cut my opinion of the poet, promptly in half

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