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Poet as Platypus.

By Patricia Smith

Like many other folks, I need a cap to my summer–a day or seminal event that bellows this is it, the dog days are officially over. This year, I actually had–if indeed this is possible–two ways to end the season.
The first one was to be a personal pleasure–Martin Espada’s 50th birthday bash at the Bowery. Not only was this a chance to reconnect with dozens of my favorite poets and send them off with a hug and kiss into their respective autumns, but it provided a rare opportunity to heap much due praise upon The Espada, who is everyone’s poet whether everyone knows it or not.
The very next day I planned to wave adieu to summer again from the sultry confines of the ATL and the Decatur Book Festival. There, over Labor Day weekend, I was set to read with Sherman Alexie, who I haven’t laid eyes on since he flattened me during a People’s Poetry Gathering sendup of the Taos Poetry World Heavyweight Championship bout. He beat me about as badly as I beat Jimmy Santiago Baca in….hey, wait a minute.
Anyhoo, not only was our own Kwame Dawes gonna be in the house, but I was all set to shake hands with Kinky Friedman and finally meet Natasha Trethewey so I could bask in her considerable aura and maybe absorb a smidgen of her talent. Best of all, I had plotted and planned with several of my Cave Canem brethren to meet up at Gladys Knight’s Chicken & Waffles for what we hope will become an annual pilgrimage. If you think Tabasco and syrup have no business touching each other on a plate, well you, my friend, have a lot to learn.
So it’s been a fantastic summer, and it was set to end ultra-fantastically. But since I’m typing this from my couch on Saturday evening, you can assume that something went awry.


As I was getting ready for Martin’s party on Thursday, I noticed a little bump on my upper lip. Curiously, I poked at it, figured out that it might be the beginning of my very first cold sore ever, and smothered it with lipstick, which subdued it a little. Then, as I watched, the swell spread across my entire lip, giving me a kind of Angelina Jolie-like prissypout. I monitored it for a few minutes, and since I felt fine otherwise, I headed for the train.
On the train platform, I could feel the skin on my lip tightening. I grabbed my purse mirror and saw that my pout had gotten poutier (even Angelina would say “Day-um!”). When the Metro North to Grand Central pulled up, I did not get on. It was that pesky little voice that sometimes manages to keep me out of trouble saying, rather insistently I thought, Do not get on that train.
An hour later, I’d gone from pout to platypus. You know how some of the characters on the Simpsons have what amounts to a shelf for their upper lip? That was me. I could have gone to the party that night, alright–but only so revelers could rest their drinks on my snout.
It got so bad that I went up to my husband, hand covering the chaos and said “Hospital. Now.”
We must have been a sight going into the emergency room. I never took my hand down from my face, in the classic pose of so many abused wives fresh from a bout with their loving, ham-fisted spouses. No wonder everyone stared as my husband followed me from the ER waiting room into my session with the examining physician. He was there to provide support. I’m sure everyone thought he was making sure I didn’t say the wrong thing, or signal to the authorities that he was the second coming of Jake LaMotta. I expected one of the nurses to slip me a note: “Do you need help?”
Turns out I’m allergic to a medicine I’d been taking. Cool, I thought. Shoot me up with something, make the swelling go down. Instead they put me in a bed and hooked me up to an IV, pumping me full of steroids (to reduce the swelling or to help me in my quest to break the major league home run record, I’m not sure) and Benadryl (which is always a pleasure, especially when injected directly into the bloodstream). I couldn’t figure out why they couldn’t just medicate me and send me home to shrink–until the doctor said that my tongue and throat were also threatened. Even doped up as I was, I recalled the throat’s role in transporting oxygen. So there I lay.
Until 9:30 the next morning, effectively missing my flight to Atlanta and the official end of my summer. (Happy birthday, Martin. Good to see you again, Sherman. Wow, Kinky, you’re taller than I expected. And I’m about to sit down in this plate of chicken wings and waffles. I missed all that.)
OK, so I’ve got a few days to rectify this situation. I can walk over to the Tappan Zee bridge and watch the sun set over the Hudson. I can write a new poem. I can cuddle with a loving hubby who thought (or said he thought) I was hot even when I resembled a platypus. Or I can post all this weirdness on a blog and hope that some idle soul will feel very sorry for me.
Feel sorry for me…OK?

Comments (5)

  • On September 2, 2007 at 1:37 am oscar wrote:

    sending best wishes to you from oaktown, ms smith.

  • On September 2, 2007 at 11:46 pm Mozart wrote:

    Hope you feel better.

  • On September 3, 2007 at 11:23 am Cherryl wrote:

    ouch!
    awkward for kissing.
    heal peacefully.
    light!

  • On September 3, 2007 at 10:08 pm patricia wrote:

    Yes, VERY awkward for kissing. But better now. I am pleasantly drugged and normally lipped. Thanks for the light(!) and the sweet shoutout, especially one all the way from O-Town. (Oscar, I miss our chowfests…)

  • On September 11, 2007 at 12:40 am Tara Betts wrote:

    DAAAAAMN! I could not even imagine. I’m glad you’re better, and I’m sorry you had to get IV’d and all. It’s nice to be cuddled in times of great alarm.


Posted in Uncategorized on Saturday, September 1st, 2007 by Patricia Smith.