Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Heart With Strangers

The email said to arrive at 6:45pm. This was so that we could be assigned seats and told when we would read. As unlikely as it sounds, I arrive a few minutes early (I am always at least 5 minutes late - ALWAYS). But today I am right on time, unsure of what will happen next.

So I park my car and strut a block over in a pair of black heels, unsteady on my feet used to flats or being naked. Makeup graces my face. I realized at the last minute that I would be on a stage, or in front of a podium, or at least somewhere where people would be looking at me.

I wonder when the nerves will kick in, but smile as confidently as I can manage, when I finally figure out where I am going.

Across? Left, no right. Made it!

"Do you need a ticket?"

No, I shall be reading a poem tonight.

"Very good. Go right in!"


Now what? Another friendly face looks my way and I announce my presence again. Nerves jingle a little bit, just to remind me that I will be a part of the event this evening. My role as passive audience will be interrupted by the promised two minutes of fame.

The people don't notice that my heart rate has changed. Everyone who works there is trying to look busy, but the poets who have already arrived sit nervous and alone on a bench. I catch a fleeting smile, but feel alone in this endeavour tonight.

Time to look at the artwork. This is an art gallery after all and colour is splashed across canvases here, there and everywhere.

Mr Pink. Mr Green. Mr Yellow. Mr Red.


My watch tells me that I have been here for 20 minutes. I cling to the Perrier I was offered, but it ain't no wine and cheese affair. More people arrive and I move to another section of the gallery.

Eventually, I find out that I will be reading seventh in the order. Good. That gives me time to see how other people will be handling their readings.

I breathe, smile and perch on the edge of a sofa in anticipation.

We begin. The organizer is running late; on her way from North Bay. Apologies are offered, but we begin without her. I am okay, as there will be people ahead of me. I will be ok.

Before I get to me, I need to tell you the theme of the evening. Perhaps then it will help you to understand more of where my nerves staunched from. You might understand better than the strangers that surrounded me, although they have walked in similar shoes as well. You see, we were all paying tribute to "Shining Stars". Not the Hollywood kind. Our stars were the people in our lives that we had lost and wanted to honour in some form.  I suspect you know where I went with this theme.

Brad, of course.

The women before me gave long speeches about in-laws, sisters and even lost unknown soldiers from days gone by. They prefaced their poems with pages of warmth and glowing terms.

I had a single piece of 100% recycled Canadian Cascades multi-use paper. It was folded in the middle and slightly crumpled from being in my purse. My story was in my head. If I began it, I would not be able to read  the poem that followed. So I simply announced that I was honouring my husband. He had died almost five years previous from malignant melanoma. And I had a poem to share.

It began,

baubles gifted 
far and few... 
but I cannot share the whole thing. It will be published in a collection with the other poems from the evening. I can tell you that I wavered. My voice caught on the words, but I breathed and continued to the end.

And then it was over.

But it was not. Other people spoke of their losses. No other voices quivered or quaked. I did not notice downcast eyes, but I could feel the hurt that had been there in their grief. We had all lost. I might have been the youngest face, therefore touching to this small audience, but they knew.

Afterwards, gentle voices sought me out to honour my words. They heard my pain. They asked questions, kind in their interest. They shared their own stories. We all knew the emotions well. Despite not being able to conceal that well of grief, even with time and my best efforts, I still managed to be there and add my voice. I probably could not have picked a harder topic to speak on, but I shared my heart with these strangers.

And they felt it.


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