by Joel Haas
Running late, I bought a handful of sonnets from a street corner poet.
They looked fresh but words shriveled almost at once. Whole lines drooped at crazy angles before I'd walked three blocks.
Two rhymes curled up at the edges, spoiling the pentameter, and then fell off as I bumped into an old guy dodging pimple farmers skateboarding on the sidewalk.
Bus doors wheezed shut behind me. Its engine farted; the bus whooshed past and two more rhymes fell off a different sonnet, a big red one with a yellow-green center I thought would look great on the top shelf of the second bookcase in the hallway (You know, the one we never seem to find something to go with the late German Romantics)
By now, I was wracking my brain wondering if we had any packets of Edit Fresh and enough ink to mix with it and hope the poems would revive.
I knew two of the sonnets I'd just have to cut the final two lines or the Edit Fresh would never save them. Perhaps I could use them as cutting to root in more Edit Fresh.
You know how I'll sometimes take a whole line of Leonard Cohen to see if I can grow a new one on my own? Or I'll snip a caesura from Whitman to graft onto a Merwin stanza?
Who's got time to grow their poems from seed any more!? Cuttings and grafting are still a lot easier. Last year I grew an entire Michael Lentz from just four words—and it was in German! Even that is easier than growing all your poems from seed.
Everybody thinks we have a nice library and study but it is really our greenhouse where we re pot phrases, treating them like rare orchids—fertilizing them with adjectives, watering them with pronouns.
But, back to the present. I'm juggling my briefcase, thermos, design plans that won't fit in a briefcase, plus two bouquets of rapidly wilting verse.
I folded one of the poems. I slid it into my inside suit coat pocket but the damn thing was still fresh, if bedraggled. I accidentally smeared commas and semi colons across my lapels—some poetry can be like stamens on lily blooms, their pollen sticking to everything they touch.
Damn! Damn! Damn!
The semi colons will come out easily enough, but the commas are harder to remove than red wine stains.
Oh great!...It's starting to rain...
Even if I had an umbrella I'd need more arms than an octopus to keep all this stuff dry!
Should have taken that bus! Well, I couldn't have either; I'd spent my last bit of cash buying these sonnets.
I fantasize I could have offered the bus driver a sonnet in lieu of fare, but even if he'd taken it, would Metro Transport?
“I'm sorry, sir” the accounts collection manager at Metro Transport smiles condescendingly, “It's not that we here at Metro Transport have anything against poetry. It just doesn't fit in our bookkeeping. I don't know of any accounting software where it does...”
OH NO! That damn street corner poet wrote everything in water soluble ink! I should have insisted on the plastic laminated laser prints. But the calligraphy was so nice! I thought it bespoke craftsmanship, but no! This is like some cheap 1950s Japanese toy! And if any more words dissolve I'll be left with haiku!
Oh, for crying out loud!...Look what's left of this top one.
Oh well; this was probably one I was going to have to cut the last two lines off anyway before setting it in Edit Fresh.
Finally home. Our place is on the second floor and –oh God give me strength! My keys! Did I leave them at the office? I rub my thigh against the door frame. “Thank God! They're here! I can feel them!” I say aloud.
A woman walking by stops and looks at me.
“My keys.” I smile like a nervous dog that's just peed on a new carpet. Her head tilts back slightly under her umbrella. “I thought I'd left them in my pocket—office, I mean. But I can feel them when I rub against the door.”
She turns away from me slightly, baleful eyes still on me.
“I just can't take them out at the moment. I mean they'd get wet..but that doesn't matter, of course...they're probably already wet..but, but I can't reach them right now. My hands are full.”
She turns and crosses the street, her pace increasing rapidly.
Moronically, I shout after her, “I'll just have to use our new buzzer!” and jam my elbow backwards, hoping I hit #224.
“#224.” Her voice is neutral.
“Honey, could you buzz me in please?”
“Leave your keys at the office again?” She's amused.
“No, my arms are full!”
“You sweet man!” she trills. “You must have stopped by the Crystal Cork to buy my favorite champagne!”
The buzzer sounds and the door pops open a quarter inch. I hook my briefcase strap on the handle and pull. Three steps later I am yanked to a halt, the strap still caught in the door handle. A spray of black water drops that may have been adverbs, indefinite articles, or some key words that might explain “pulsing marmalade sunsets” splatter the foyer's new carpet.
Dread grips me.
She expects champagne.
Her birthday? Our anniversary?
A prisoner ascending the gallows, I trudge up the stairs.
The door opens before I even knock with my elbow.
Her head tips, quizzical.
She's looking for the champagne.
Anniversary? Birthday?--no, it can't be her birthday; I remember we went to the lake just two months ago for that.
“I meant to write you wonderful verse for the occasion,” I started, “but nothing seemed appropriate. I fell behind because a client made major changes—so I grabbed these from a street corner poet on Adams Avenue and Third. But it started to rain and it turned out they were cheap rhymes, probably something composed by slave labor and printed by the millions for pennies and I'm so sorry—I just couldn't get any suitable for the occasion...” I was desperate and out of breath.
“Suitable for the occasion?” she's about to laugh.”Pat and Lee coming over for drinks? You needed to write a sonnet for the neighbors to visit?”
“I was going to serve that riesling Hal gave us for our anniversary back in ...uh...”
“March.” She's biting her lip to keep from laughing.
She sees my expression.
“You sweet man! You thought you'd forgotten a birthday or anniversary, didn't you?”
I hold out the sonnet bouquets.
“Thank you,” she smiles taking them with both hands. “I think there's plenty of Edit Fresh and ink in the library.” She turned towards the library. “Go put on something clean and dry—and don't let all those commas on your lapels stain anything else. I've got some e.e.cummings to clean it.”
“What about Pat and Lee?”
“Oh, they called and cancelled. Pat's mom is sick. Come in the library and help me with these after you change.”
From the hallway, I hear her talking to herself, “Pity about the sonnet with the yellow-green center—it would have gone perfectly on the shelf with late German Romantics...”
I take off my coat, and just as I drop it in the hamper, I hear her laugh.
“Oh my God! 'pulsating marmalade sunsets' ??!!”