The poem maker remembers to make the poem
I visited my six-year old boy's school for Poem In Your Pocket Day. I portrayed the 'mystery poet' hiding behind a six-foot piece of burlap held at arm's length, the word POCKET drawn on the front, the kids filing in, pointing, yelling, "Look, a pocket!" The teachers had done a thorough job of getting them excited about today, with every child writing a poem to carry.
After some of my patented pocket-shtick, I release my hands, the fabric falls like a curtain to reveal…me…with the word POET on my shirt. "I'm a poet in a pocket," I say, the kids laugh. "And now," taking the fabric and throwing it over their seated little beings, "so are you," the fabric being passed over their heads. I then recite the appropriate occasional poem:
POEM IN MY POCKET by Edwin Torres
I wrote a poem
the poem talked to me
it said, hello I am your poem
I said, hello I am your pocket
the poem looked at me
and said, blooby dabby blop blop
I said, is that your name
no my name is zeeby zeeby wawa
wait a minute...
guuddu guuuduuu nnnggggggg
Well, I just had to catch this poem
so I opened my pocket very wide
sssssssssssooooopppppppp and caught it, chomp…
with my eyes, my ears, my tongue
now, whenever I need a smile
I open my pocket
take out my poem
(open mouth and silently mime:)
blooby dabby blop blop
zeeby zeeby wawa
guuddu guuuduuu nnnggggggg
This led to interesting conversations about whether or not poems can talk to you, what sorts of discussions might ensue from such a phenomenon, how possible it might be to catch a poem from the air, why eating a poem with your eyes tastes different than ears, and the one profound enigma that usually unfurls itself by a six-year old explorer raising her hand in the midst of your own discovery, "Excuse me, how do you make a poem?"
I was mostly reciting from memory or reading from single sheets of paper, but at one point, I read a poem from my book...written about an actual family event, something "real"…prompting one of the kids to raise their hands, "Yes" I said. The boy looked at me, looked at the book, and with accusatory bewilderment, pointed his finger at me and said, "Where did you get that book?" I explained that it was my book, of my words, I had not stolen it. And that there were people who really liked poetry called publishers who helped poets get their poems to many people. "But who wrote all those words?"
Needless to say, the inspiration and reciprocal gratitude of experiences like this are fuel when I forget how to make a poem. My dad was second oldest out of ten siblings, the first to leave Puerto Rico, the first to stake out this new land called Nuyoricua. He was also the family poet, a fact that came to light many years after he died, when I was ten years old. Once my aunt revealed this secret, in my thirties, a memory dredged out of its recesses—I'm seven or eight years old, grandma's house in the Bronx, Sunday after church, the women in the kitchen, the men in the sun-filled bedroom, a new-fangled tape recorder placed on a nightstand, me and two of my cousins crouched down in front of its microphone, the men on the other side of the room…in my wide-angled imprint of the room, way on the other side, like miles away...drinking scotch, screaming, listening, debating, truly in their element. All the while, my cousins and I whispering curses quietly right into the microphone. Fast-forward to my aunt telling me about my dad and how he'd recite his poems to his brothers, "Your uncles!" at grandma's house on Sunday afternoons and how there were even some tape recordings, and how proud he would be of me. "Ohhh…" I managed to whimper, horrified at the prospect of my aunt discovering my pre-adolescent tomfoolery drowning out my father's "very important work."
However no need for anxiety, those recordings were long gone by now. But what a discovery…my mother never said anything, the pain of his complexity leaving an indelible stain on her trust. What did he think when he, no doubt, heard those tapes fashioned to capture these remarkable Sunday afternoon performances with his 'men'…hearing giggles and whispered body parts, basically the opposite of macho posturing, on machinery meant to create a legacy? For all that bravado, he never brought it up, never reprimanded me. Could it be they were a riot to listen to, as precious to him in their idiosyncratic perfections as they would have been to me?
Well, I'm honoring you today, dad. Dad, meet Harriet…Harriet, my dad! I don't know what you heard, but it wasn't me dad...or only me. Listen to everyone here. This is something called a Blog. Like your tape recorder, it catches everyone's poems...everyone's important work. Go ahead, say a few words…and don't worry, I won't say a thing.
A self-proclaimed “lingualisualist” rooted in the languages of sight and sound, Edwin Torres was born in the Bronx and is a longtime resident of New York City. He is a poet whose highly acclaimed performances and live shows combine vocal and physical improvisation and theater. He is the author of...