Friday, September 14, 2012

doug's poems

I first met Doug in early 2000. I was eighteen years old, just discovering the unmatched rush of getting on stage and spilling my guts. Piles and piles of poems read to no one but myself finally released into the wild. I drove 30 miles north and put myself behind the microphone once a month. We were a gathering of all ages, though I might've been the youngest. Doug was a mystery for most of it. He always took the same slot: first poet of the open mic portion of the show. First guy on. I think he worked nights, dashed to us before punching the clock. He had that voice--perfect blend of rasp and smooth. A man with kind words for everyone, even though most nights he couldn't stick around for the entire show. Every month I made sure to get there early. I never wanted to miss his reading.

I left Dayton in 2001 and stayed in touch with Doug almost by accident. Around the holidays he would send a card with a poem, written longhand. Doug's handwriting slightly slides to the right in quick cursive. And last year when one of the poets back home contacted me to say he passed away, I pulled out the cards and stared at his penmanship. It took me a long time to understand what Doug meant to me. We were not close--we read on the same stage and shared the same love for it--we shared words of praise. He was, undoubtedly, a symbol of poetry. He seemed to write regularly, made time for it. He was also tied tightly to a pivotal point in my life. He was a part of a beginning, one of the originals. I missed my chance to tell him. It had been a long time since I wrote a letter.

I went back home for a reading in his honor. We listened to a few old recordings(Doug's voice was the first to fill the room that night, sticking to his first poet tradition) and read a few of our own pieces. A couple of cardboard boxes filled with loose leaf paper sat on a small table. All of the pages were filled with writing. All of it sliding to the right, quick cursive. Doug's poems. Three or four of us plucked through the boxes. Poems and poems and poems. Some pages were stacked together tightly along the sides--the piles never ended. Poems on flyers, college-ruled, matchbooks. The evidence blew my mind.

A few of us grabbed stacks and retreated to our corners with them. A decision was made to transcribe the handwritten pages, compile the poems, create a book for Doug. I drove my pile 5 hours east to Pittsburgh tucked in a folder. The folder traveled back and forth between the writing desk and living room, tending to the task when I could. I never managed to transcribe consistently, though last week I dove into the collection again armed with blank pages and pen. The decoded stack continues to grow. Doug tackled the hard stuff--addiction, self-preservation, recovery. Words on loneliness, old haunts, lost friends, local jazz, love. Each one completed urges me to the next one. This is an uncovering, a slow reveal. I feel a responsibility to do this. For Doug, for other writers, for the evidence itself. For the work and the moment behind each poem.

Transcribing the work becomes a meditative act. Sometimes I consider my own stacks upon stacks of poems, the hard drive busting at the seams. They are on the backs of flyers, cocktail napkins, receipts. They are complete and partial--some are just a sentence. I type and scrawl and lose them. When I am gone where will they go? A folder, a drawer,a safety deposit box. Each page and poem a moment. "Misdemeanor model have green room heart attack..." scribbled on a Club Cafe napkin. The blue notebook full of writings from my old porch on Butler Street. I guess that's the thing. The work can be a time increment, a book mark jutting--wherever you were when you wrote it, whatever the heartache or giddy behind it. Here, the proof: you were moved to move the pen. Life becomes archived, heart beats in ellipses.

1 comment: