Thursday, June 18, 2009
In the style of Whitman
Monday night I attended the birthday bash of an elderly, illustrious folk singer and lion of the left. While there, I met both an author I respect (I gave her my best wishes) and a younger folk singer who I've seen perform at least twice. I felt I should give her my best wishes too, since I was being all sociable.
"Folkie!" she cried, when I introduced myself and explained where I had seen her play. She threw her arm around me and steered me towards her crew of intimidating Brooklyn hipsters and queers. "Look, everyone! She's one of us!"
The crew eyed me. "Where do you live?" someone asked.
"Brooklyn," I answered.
The interrogator smiled as though to say that that much one could assume. "Where in Brooklyn?" she asked.
Barely Brooklyn. Brownstone Brooklyn. The Heights. There was nothing to it but to admit the truth, and I put it as baldly as possible: "Montague Street."
Their "Oh" was eloquent. Having proven myself utterly uncool, I managed to escape.
Later in the evening, however, as I returned from the bathroom, I ran straight into them. There they all were, piled carelessly upon each other in the hallway like the cool girls at a bat mitzvah. The folk singer appeared, still happy with wine, and clasped me to her again.
"Ester!" she said. "Where did go to college?"
"Swarthmore," said I.
"Swarthmore! That's wonderful! See, I told you she was one of us." She smiled broadly at her crew. "And what do you do, Swarthmore? You're not afflicted with music, I hope?"
"No, but I do write some," said I.
"Marvelous! What do you write?"
"Stories, poems ..."
"Write a poem for us now!" cried the folk singer. "About that wall, there."
I stared at the wall which was papered a bright, coppery orange. God help me, I thought. My head was empty. The crew was watching.
"Do it in the style of Whitman," someone suggested, giving me more rope.
"Ego, splashed against a wall," I said promptly.
They hooted with appreciation. "Mary Oliver!" called someone else.
"Birds against a burning sunset."
"The heart beating lonely by reflecting waters."
"The birth and the afterbirth together."
This time they screamed, and I had passed their test. With all due apologies to Whitman, Oliver, Thoreau, and Sexton, of course.