The sunset is behind us.  It took some work to put it there, but there it is.   We escaped Seattle only five hours later than we had planned, and so I'm here in Spokane now nearing midnight, staring at two pens.

A little backstory: A few boxes from the end of our time in the Emerald City,  I stand in our front yard staring into nowhere.  My mind has been blown by the dull work of moving and the attendant simple machines--the Allen wrench!  The incline plane!?!?--and so from time to time I am drifting off into the abstract world of practical thinking.  This is one of those times.

Our neighbor--a man I saw most days tinkering on his car or digging up his yard in nothing but shorts, tinted trifocals, and seemingly grumpy spirits--comes up the walk and says in his slightly accented English, "May I speak with you?"

Uh oh.  The marvels of the incline plane will have to wait on my revelations.  I walk down to meet my neighbor on my last day in the neighborhood.

He introduces himself and shakes my hand firmly.  No smiles.

"I hear you and your wife are poets," he says, "Is this true?"

I nod.  What can I do? I kick at the ground.  He puts his hand on my shoulder and gives me a serious look behind the tinted trifolacals.  No shirt.  There are gray hairs sprouting and spiraling everywhere.

"I'm an engineer.  I've been here in Seattle for thirty six years."

He looks away and squints a bit.

"Poetry is in my life.  I wish I would have come over, said so before.  I'm Russian, you see . . . Listen, does your poetry rhyme?"

I hedge.  "Sometimes?"

"My poetry rhymes," he says.  "There is something called the 'white rhyme' in Russian, but, no, I rhyme."

We look at the ground, at the house, back to each other.  He reaches into the back pocket of his shorts.

"Here," he says.  "A gift."

He hands me two pens.

"I made these for you and your wife."

One pen has my wife's name inscribed on it, one has my own name.

"If you come back to Seattle, we should talk more," he says, "And I'll show you this town.  You've never seen it before, I assure you."

He winks and walks back down the walk.

Here are the two pens from the town we just left, one I now have the feeling I know nothing about:


Originally Published: June 1st, 2009

Travis Nichols is the author of two books of poetry: Iowa (2010, Letter Machine Editions) and See Me Improving (2010); and he is the author of two novels: Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder (2012) and The More You Ignore Me (2013). He has contributed to The Believer, Paste, The...

  1. June 1, 2009
     Cathy Halley

    God, I love a grand gesture now and then. Happy and safe driving!

  2. June 1, 2009

    Christ, Travis Nichols, you sure missed out on an opportunity. There are no better experts (or afficionados) of poetry than Spaniards, Italians, Persians, Welsh, Irish, or Slavs. It is in their blood.\r