Poet Reading at the Phoenix Public Market
The poet leans into the microphone,
begs to be heard over the bawling blues
on the crackling speakers from the
Jamaican barbecue food truck,
can’t turn the music down or sales might sag.
A cinnamon-skinned woman calls out an order:
Connor! Pulled pork sandwich!
Masters of the market tote capacious bags and baskets,
women stroll past in drum-tight yoga pants,
some alluringly fit, pudenda proudly displayed,
others straining the limits of fabric and fashion,
too much bacon for the pan to handle.
Food truck diners wilt in the shimmering asphalt heat,
glance plaintively over shoulders for a merciful cloud,
devour with plastic fork and knife their paper plates full of
Navajo fry bread, lamb curry, grilled gruyere cheese sandwiches,
their ankles menaced all the while
by swooping gangs of jittery pigeons,
pathetic pale posers, imitations of wild birds.
The cinnamon-skinned woman calls out an order:
Jamie! Rack of ribs with slaw!
A woman in the front row knitting,
her eyes on her needles,
she’ll rush the podium at the end of the poet’s set
and swear she was listening to every word.
Slobbering dogs drag their owners,
ranging liberally on retractable cables,
sniffing for morsels of greasy jetsam
at the feet of the seated diners.
The woman with skin of cinnamon calls out this order:
Katrina! Hot links and saucy beans!
Teenagers dragging skateboards by their noses
cross in front of the speakers and smirk.
You’ll be back, the poet thinks, if not today then next week,
when your friends aren’t here to think you’re not cool,
because you’re not so different in your angst and
your carefully unkempt hair and studiously shabby clothes
from any of us studied cynics at the microphone.
The cinnamon song sings out for response:
Joseph! Brisket platter with a side of sauce!
Some shoppers halt, hesitate, frozen midstep,
unsure whether to walk in front of the speakers
—is that rude?—and startled thus into presence,
hear poetry read aloud,
perhaps for the first time in their adult lives,
if only by accident and only for a moment.
Others stride brashly, unapologetically,
into the space before the poet,
oblivious to the amplified voice
as anything more than white noise.
They stop in front of the podium,
turn and shout to their friends
Let’s get some tacos and sit under one of these umbrellas!
in houndstooth-checked porkpies
push strollers filled with flowers and
babies and baguettes
and smile sweetly in passing
at aging tie-dyed hippies
whose gray heads nod
in time to the rhyme.
Sunflowers big as a baby’s head
and stems of gladiolas
burst like fireworks from the
hands of beaming young girls.
And there in a puddle of illusory shade,
beyond the tight circle of the poet’s close friends,
a beautiful couple takes respite from the heat,
leans each upon the other, kisses with languor.
And how is the poet to pay any mind to the poem,
when this heartaching beauty fills his head like a song?