You are like the five p.m. sun, making the faces of the buildings brighter, tinting everything in orange like a small flame held close, both fleeting and faithful.
This is how she wrote. She’d been told it was beautiful. Subtly significant, lingering in the mind and heart, unassumingly philosophical—words and phrases like that. But those were her parents, people who knew her parents, people from work, people in her building she’d bumped into time and time again enough to come to understand as more than neighbors.
She wasn’t one to frequent bars. That Friday night she’d meant to meet a friend she hadn’t seen in years. She had her pocket journal out, pages open before her. Pen uncapped, in the crease. The ambience was somewhat light, not too unsettling for her. Upbeat songs were playing just loudly enough to recognize but not loudly enough to compete with conversation. She found herself singing along in her head, tapping her glass in rhythm.
A stranger, as strangers are apt to do, approached. He took the seat beside her. Her eyes flicked to the side once and then again to stay.
You’re enjoying this song, he said, when he had her attention.
Just recognizing it, really, she replied. I’m here looking for a friend.
She laughed, lightly. Waiting for a friend of mine who—
She checked her phone.
—Should be here, very soon.
I’m sorry. I’m interrupting your solitude. I just couldn’t, he chuckled, you looked so honestly into it.
Did I? Her eyes widened. Oh, that’s embarrassing.
No, no. Anyway… He smiled. He drummed his fists on the bar. For a moment she thought he was about to leave. Then he pointed to her journal. Are you a—
He drew the vowel sound out.
No, she smiled.
Oh wait; I have a really great one.
Okay, she said uncertainly.
You’re a private investigator, your friend was fired from this bar and you’re here to see if you can get some dirt on it that she can use at the meeting she has scheduled with the boss to get her job back tonight.
No, she said. You’re quite creative.
I quite do my best, he replied, and laughed at himself. So what do you do?
I’m a writer.
Oh well I was close! With the journalist guess. You’re a writer full time? Like novels, stories, literature?
Stories and poems.
Ah, you’re a poet.
You say it with such disdain.
Oh that wasn’t disdain! That was distrust.
That isn’t much better.
If any, he laughed. I’m mostly joking.
But you’re partly not.
Poetry. I took a poetry course in college and most of the people in the class were, oh I mean… He put two fingers up, like a gun, to the side of his head and then, he didn’t go through with the gesture. He rolled his eyes to the side self-deprecatingly and his hands collapsed into his lap. His feet were wrapped around the two front legs of the barstool and he was leaning forward. Those poets were just too wrapped up in their emotions and themselves, he said. It seemed to me at least.
She nodded. Okay. Two things. People at bars aren’t often too wrapped up in their emotions and themselves? These places are Meccas of self-pity and ego. Then she laughed at herself for feeling so defensive.
Touché, he said.
She twisted in her seat, more to face him. I have this theory, she said, leaning forward. Poetry is really just as enlivening and invigorating as a good song or a good film. It’s just not as incorporated into the everyday of the public. If poetry intervened into more peoples’ lives it would be for their better. And they’d see it.
What kind of intervention are you talking?
Any kind, I guess.
What if you could read a poem to everyone in this bar?
She leaned back. What, right now?
You think that would affect every individual in here for the better?
She paused and thought. Yes, I mean, I think it would.
The stranger stood, smiling. He walked away.
This amazed her, to say the least. She was amazed by his leaving and amazed by the sinking feeling in her stomach that he’d left. Was her theory so absurd?
But the stranger wasn’t gone. He was simply walking around to the other side of the bar, to the inside of the bar. He met her again on the other side, dipped his hand into his pocket and pulled out a small rectangular clip, reading: Theodore, Manager, in small neat lettering.
I can arrange that, he said. He reached under the table and the music shut off, abruptly. Hello, he hollered, his voice traveling easily. Everyone was looking.
I don’t do this often, he said. I can’t think of any other time I’ve done this actually, but, he shouted, punctuating the last as well as beginning the next sentence. We have a rare treat tonight. A poet in the building, a poet named, he paused.
Ama, she said.
Oh that’s nice, what does that mean?
I was born on a Monday, she smiled, painfully. Everyone was looking.
Really? That’s very interesting. He returned to shouting, saying, A poet named Ama, she was born on a Monday, and she will now read us an original poem. Come on, he said, taking her hand. Stand on the bar.
Stand, what? She hissed through her teeth.
But now people were cheering.
She praised the Lord she was wearing flats as she climbed onto the chair and stood on the bar. The view was nice. The bar seemed much more open and spacious looking over the barriers between booths, seeing everything at once.
I don’t have a microphone so you’ll have to speak up, Theodore said.
She took her journal into both her hands. Okay, she said. I usually don’t do this, she laughed, and some people laughed too. I usually memorize, she added, and more laughs followed. She looked across the faces looking at her, and cleared her throat. I’m going to read something very new. It’s a piece in progress. It doesn’t have a title.
She cleared her throat again:
You are like six-thirty waking,
the scent of New York flowers falling from rooftop gardens.
You are like noontime moon in the blue sky already.
How can you be there?
But I don’t mind not knowing.
I kind of like it.
You are five p.m. sun, turning the faces of the buildings brighter,
tinting everything in orange like a small flame, fleeting and faithful.
You are like nine o’clock
seemingly starless sky through the window.
Clouded by the pane.
Drawn like the curtains.
You are day after day after day after day.
Like a small flame held close,
both fleeting and faithful.
Thank you, she said.
And everyone clapped, and some snapped, and some cheered. Some hollered bravo, a few whistled. Theodore helped her down off of the bar, turned the music back on, and the sounds settled back in to something like what they were prior, but not the same.
You wrote that for me, that quickly, he said incredulously, teasing.
Ama laughed. My heart is going a million miles an hour.
Well I’ve seen the light! I’m pretty sure that was the best thing that’s ever happened here. Then he drummed his fists against the bar. Your friend, he asked.
Oh! She checked her phone. Five missed calls and an apology text. Not coming, she sighed. Got tied up.
What! Ridiculous! Listen, stick around. All of your drinks are on me and I won’t let you get more than three, in your own interest. Every guy in here is eying you now.
I have to go, she said though, collecting her coat. I have other plans too and I’m late for those.
Lies. Still, she got her things and she got out. She walked ten paces and crumpled, back against the wall of the bar. Her breath was white air. The warmth in her face was subsiding.
A handful of strangers came out of the bar door. She went unnoticed by all but one, who did a double take and then pointed, Hey!
That was beautiful! That was really beautiful, what you read!
The others turned, recognized her, and chimed in. They didn’t linger. Acknowledged and walked on. But she could hear them, repeating lines and phrases: clouded by the pane, like a small flame held close, noontime moon. Beautiful, really beautiful, she heard them say, that that is how she wrote.
Cheyenne Varner lives in Richmond, Virginia. Her work has been published in Winter Tangerine Review, Thistle Magazine, V23 Creative Magazine, Atwood Magazine, SILVIA Magazine, BODY Literature, -Ology Journal, and more.
Artwork for this poem was produced by Jennika Bastian in collaboration with Ryan Cain.