Poet Reading at the Phoenix Public Market

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The poet leans into the microphone, begs to be heard over the bawling blues on the scratchy speakers from the Jamaican barbecue food truck, can’t turn the music down or sales might sag. A cinnamon-skinned woman calls out the orders as the food comes out.

Toby! Pulled pork sandwich!

Masters of the market with capacious bags and baskets, women in yoga tights, some alluringly fit, pudenda proudly displayed, a fantastic feast for libidinous dreamers, 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 pleadingly over their shoulders for a merciful cloud, tear into Navajo fry bread and lamb curry and grilled gruyere cheese sandwiches with plastic fork and knife, their ankles menaced by swooping gangs of skittering pigeons, those pathetic pale posers, imitations of wild birds.

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.

Dogs lead their owners, closely tethered and straining for freedom or ranging liberally on retractable cables, sniffing for greasy jetsam at the feet of the seated diners.

Katrina! Hot links and saucy beans!

Teenagers dragging skateboards by their noses cross in front of the speakers and smirk. You’ll be back, I think, 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.

Joseph! Brisket platter with a side of sauce!

Some shoppers are unsure whether to walk in front of the speakers—is that rude?—so they halt, hesitate, and 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 voice as anything more than amplified distraction, unwelcome 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!

Plaid-shirted hipsters in houndstooth-checked porkpies push strollers filled with flowers and baby and baguettes and smile at tie-dyed hippies whose gray heads nod to the meter of the rhyme.

Sunflowers big as a baby’s head and stems of gladiolas burst like fireworks from the hands of smiling young girls.

Just outside the clump of the poet’s friends circled in front of the podium, a beatific couple stops in a puddle of shade, kisses with languor and how am I to pay any mind to this poem when that breathtaking thing unfolds before me.

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