A Scene based on Eavesdropping

A Scene from Eavesdropping

A crowded Starbucks; is this average for a Thursday evening? The place is filled with tables of women, whose chatter all seems to be work related. Boring. Work seems to be that way (unless the work is writing, then it’s more maddening fun than anything else). The couple sitting to the right of the gray couch seem interesting. They’re the only two people in here who aren’t talking. It’s obvious they’ve been here a while: only half an inch of his watery iced latte remains. I can’t see hers, as she’s ordered something hot on this sticky-hot evening in late August. Why would you want hot coffee in late August, especially if the room is – as this one is – not particularly cold?

The couples’ silence is more interesting than any of the chattering women who spread papers over their tables and interrupt each other as their drinks sweat through their cups. He is old, overweight, severely balding. She seems several years his junior, though still middle-aged, with a no-nonsense hairstyle and a finger’s width of dark roots. They both seem to be grading papers, but I don’t recognize them from our university. Perhaps ACC? She speaks, briefly, and I catch a small Southern inflection in her words. Probably the community college not far from here. Anyway…here’s a scene, related to their silence.

Marie stared at Carter from across the checkered tablecloth, wondering when he’d look up from thumbing through his cell phone. The clock, conveniently located on the wall of the diner bar behind their booth, had ticked away three minutes since their chit chat had dwindled into silence. Beyond the standard, how was your day? and nice weather we’ve been having,they seemed to have nothing to say to each other. Married three months and already running out of words, she thought. During their brief courtship, they’d played a game loosely named “the question game,” in which she would ask a question and he would answer it, then she would, and then he would choose a different question. They picked it up whenever conversation lagged at dinner, over miniature golf, even during the cake tasting two weeks before their wedding, when they decided on a strawberry-swirled angel food for their three-tiered, icing-ed masterpiece.

The questions ran out on the second-to-last day before their honeymoon in Wilmington ended. Of course, on a honeymoon there are plenty of other methods of conversation readily available. Brunching at Tater’s, a charmingly quaint home-style eatery, on the other hand…they could talk, or they could eat. As the tables were packed and their cheerful, grandmotherly waitress had informed them that the cook was at least fifteen minutes behind schedule, they had at least another ten minutes to wait before her chocolate croissant and his country ham arrived.

She glanced at the clock again. Two more minutes had passed. Marie knew the name of Carter’s favorite childhood pet, his shoe size, that he fancied the ocean over mountain streams, and that he drank his coffee with cream but no sugar, but she didn’t know what he was doing on that damn phone.

“Have we nothing left to say to each other?” As soon as the words left her mouth she clapped her hands over her lips, shocked by the sound of her voice.

“I suppose not, unless something interesting has happened in the last five minutes.” He seemed nonplussed by her query, hardly bothering to glance up from the Blackberry that held his attention.

“Something interesting?” she said. “Only this.” Marie stood up, refolded her paper napkin neatly on the table, and walked out the door.

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Mill Village (draft 3)

The houses line what was once a dirt road,
now paved asphalt painted with orderly stripes
of yellow and white. The hill slopes downward
towards crumbling brick buildings, what used to be
a mill bustling with labor and life,
whole families working in continuous production
of soft flannels and plaids.

The chain of rust-eaten roofs, missing slats
of wood siding, untended yards overgrown
with clover and thistles attest to decades of neglect.
Jagged, broken doors hang off their hinges, lonely
for former occupants who used to keep them swinging.
The windowpanes that do remain are shattered,
jutting shards of glass that speak silently
of emptiness and abandonment.

The houses stand empty. Shadowy remnants
of the hard-working families seem to haunt
the ramshackle buildings they never owned
long after their few belongings were packed away.
Steady breaths of lint and cotton dust
killed slowly; the end
of the mill and eviction quickened the rest.

An explanation on the failure to write daily…

School started.

Today, actually (as in Tuesday. Sometimes WordPress dates my posts weirdly.). I moved in on Friday, as mentioned when I talked about my favorite football player. Which meant that the past five days have been a crazy whirlwind of packing, unpacking, hanging out with my roommate and college friends, prepping for classes, class, freaking out over syllabi, working out, paperwork for research, and the beginnings of homework. In all of this craziness, I have not been writing because I have not been as free late at night when I usually write, and by the time I get into my apartment I’m too tired to work.

I am sure, however, that as soon as things get going with my writing classes (Poetry and Fiction in one semester, oh boy) that I will be posting and asking for feedback (constructive and gentle, preferably) and writing like crazy. So please keep reading, dear ones.

In the meantime, here’s a lovely little poem by Donald Hall:

Safe Sex

If he and she do not know each other, and feel confident
they will not meet again; if he avoids affectionate words;

if she has grown insensible skin under skin; if they desire
only the tribute of another’s cry; if they employ each other

as revenge on old lovers or families of entitlement and steel—
then there will be no betrayals, no letters returned unread,

no frenzy, no hurled words of permanent humiliation,
no trembling days, no vomit at midnight, no repeated

apparition of a body floating face-down at the pond’s edge

At a Window – Carl Sandburg

Give me hunger,  
O you gods that sit and give  
The world its orders.  
Give me hunger, pain and want,  
Shut me out with shame and failure 
From your doors of gold and fame,  
Give me your shabbiest, weariest hunger!  

But leave me a little love,  
A voice to speak to me in the day end,  
A hand to touch me in the dark room 
Breaking the long loneliness.  
In the dusk of day-shapes  
Blurring the sunset,  
One little wandering, western star  
Thrust out from the changing shores of shadow.
Let me go to the window,  
Watch there the day-shapes of dusk  
And wait and know the coming  
Of a little love.

The Voices of the South at Suppertime (draft 2)

Drawn out vowels hang heavy
in air already thick with moisture.

Sweet as pie. She don’t have the sense
God gave a June bug! Bless his heart.
Laws, darlin’, use some butter in that cooking!
That dog won’t hunt. Tuck your shirt in
and button up girl; you ain’t a hussy.

Languid voices set the table
with a checkered cloth and the profligate use of “ain’t.”
There are fixin’s and suppertime instead
of appetizers and dinner. A child with a wooden spoon adds
one more cup of sugar in sun-brewed sweet
tea to reach the perfect, syrupy sweetness
in the glass that accompanies every meal.
On the table? ‘Mater sandwiches
spread with mayonnaise, salt, and pepper;
Mush-melon, a sweet, overgrown cantaloupe;
and banana puddin’ with no ‘g’ to speak of,
or at least none you can hear.

The voices of the south at suppertime.

The Football Player

Tomorrow, I pull up my big-girl shoes and haul myself, my largish-GMC envoy, and a carload full of clothes and knic-knacs back up to college. This will be the first time I did it on my own (a.k.a. without a caravan-ing parent in a minivan somewhere behind me). I’ve been dragging my feet about the whole ordeal – not because I dislike college or my friends there, because they’re wonderful – but because I just hate packing and unpacking and organizing and sorting…I hate everything about moving. It’s silly and childish and no doubt stems from the many uprootings we had as a family during my childhood, following Dad from job to retail job. As much as I love how I’ve grown up, I hate the boxes, the moving vans, and unpacking in new houses (or apartments) like none other.

Anyway, at just-turned-twenty I am an adult…kind of…an adult still dependent on parents for things like rent, car insurance, and the car itself, but something of an adult nonetheless. I am moving into my first real apartment, with only one roommate, and friends from high school who promise to visit and crash on our futon (a college staple, but not terribly comfortable). Which brings me to The Football Player, with whom I got off the phone right before I started writing this (see post title).

When I was in high school, I never would have guessed that one of my absolute dearest, closest friends would turn out to be the football player who bummed chewing gum from me every day in World History. It never would have occurred to me that this simple, slightly-annoying-albeit-funny daily exchange would lead to such a meaningful friendship.

Jacob – or Georgia, as all the football players and most of the school knew him – and I have indeed been friends since those days in history class. By fall of the next year, he was stopping by the band practice field to give me sweaty hugs when the team took breaks, which later led to incredibly smelly hugs after each football game. I helped him pass Pre-Calculus; he helped me with my pool game. We hung out at the softball fields while our little sisters played ball, and I’m sure that he had some significant impact on how that tier of high school’s little social hierarchy treated me, bookwormy band kid that I was (am).

He was a year ahead of me in school and his parents were ecstatic that he passed. They bought him a silver 2010 Mustang, which he very proudly drove to my house to show off. That boy’s smile over his cool new ride; whether it’s over some large, shiny man-toy, winning a football game, or getting a girl, he just makes you want to smile with him. In six years, that hasn’t changed.

Jake’s come to visit me at school several times; we spent a large part of my freshman year on the phone, questioning why he would rather talk to me than his then-girlfriend. I realized, after he left for school this summer and left me with nothing to do, that we’d essentially spent the past three months sitting in my carport smoking blacks (him) and talking (both of us). When you hang out with someone nearly every day for the better part of a season and never run out of things to talk about…well, you know you’ve found one of those grand soul-friends who just sort of resonates with you.

As we talked tonight, all of the past six years of our friendship came to mind. We’re an odd pair, as best friends go.

But we resonate.

The Afternoon Sun – C.P. Cavafy

This room, how well I know it.
Now they rent it and the one next door
as commercial offices. The whole house became
offices for agents and merchants and companies.

Ah. this room, how familiar.

The couch was near the door, here;
in front, a Turkish rug;
near the couch, two yellow vases on a shelf.
On the right, no, across from it, was an armoire with a mirror.
In the middle, the table where he wrote
and three wicker chairs.
Next to the window was the bed
where we made love so many times.

These sad things must still be somewhere.

Next to the window was the bed;
the afternoon sun spread across halfway.

…One afternoon at four o’clock, we separated,
just for a week….Alas,
that week became forever.

“These sad things must still be somewhere.” How great is this line?? This is the way to write about love-sadness, love-loss. It isn’t overly mushy – which I feel like I talk about a lot, but it’s very important to me – and it isn’t over the top. The familiarity with the room, with the afternoon sun spreading across the bed.

I love it. “just for a week…Alas, / that week became forever.” Enjambment is so important. Enjambment, in case you haven’t heard of it, is when a line break does not correspond with punctuation in a poem. There are SO many cool ways to use it, to sneak in additional little meanings. And it really is one of the techniques of modern poetry (that and not capitalizing the first word of every line).

Getting off of my little soapbox now. I just really enjoy interesting enjambment!