International Phone At A London Post Office

london bt post office tower

London Post Office Tower-Just outside my window at Gower Street. Photo: Wikkepedia

In 1980 I wrote a poem that struck me. It didn’t strike me as the best thing I ever wrote (at the time, nor now). It just struck me. I am not sure if you should read this post forward, or backward, from the bottom up. It makes sense either way; the sad part is in the center.

As I shared it (in a writer’s workshop) the blank stares and lack of input from the room might have been a clue to an ordinary wanna-be that this poem was not my best work.  Never the less, I tucked it away but thought about it, visited it, and shared it here and there. I read it publicly twice, both times to quiet rooms.

I don’t know when is a good time to mention it, I guess now’s as good as any. This poem caused my boyfriend to break up with me. He would tell you it was the other way around, whatever.

It went down like this:

I wrote the poem.

I left it on my desk while I showered. (A good writing effort often requires a shower afterwards).

My boyfriend read it. Thought it was about us.

Words flew. Some words, once spoken, cannot be put back.

He came to understand that the poem was not about us, but I could never understand how he could have thought, for one moment, that it was.  I had not yet learned of the fragile nature of relationships, much less of poems.

Since I was in England when I wrote it, a short tutorial is in order. I was literally in a London post office. The signs were literally there.  I did overhear most of this conversation (plus a whole lot more). Even then, I was Berniecing. The part that seemed like poetry to me was the passion that exploded between the people having the conversation.

Little things seem to matter-sitting in the back row of the theater was preferable to the front row to the Brits.  The cost of stamps. Details like that, some which are lost, even to me now.

Having been typed on the manual Underwood typewriter shared by the collective, this poem exists on paper that is nearly transparent and a carries a slight mildewy fragrance . The letters are both light and dark  reflecting the various pressures applied to the keys…the woman’s quotes are the darker indications of a heavy hand at times.

Creativity had to wait it’s turn.  The carriage on that thing was fast, when you hit the return you felt like the typewriter might take flight  until you got the hang of it. We didn’t write our poems and then type them, we typed them as we wrote them. Most of us worked  too close to deadlines rendered impossible by a delicious pint of Guinness looming so close in the nearby pub.

One of the things I didn’t like about poetry readings back in the day was the way the writers  would go on and on about a poem. Just read the damned poem already!  A poem should speak for itself!.  Here’s evidence  I’ve softened over the years, or at least, given up some of my earliest convictions.

International Phone At A London Post Office

A poet shouldn’t speak

of these unfinished things-

“Are you a man? A man

would tell her now.”

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“Will you tell her tonight? Are

You going to be free?”

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“Do you have the guts to tell her?

Do you know what this is doing to my family?”

It’s cheaper to pay for your health care all at once.

“Damn it! Just tell me. I need to know.

I can’t eat, can’t sleep. Cannot go on like this!”

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“But do you have the guts to say it?”

At last, you can sit in the back row again.

Highlights by Clairol.

“Do you have the guts to say I love you?”

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