Walt Whitman’s America

This is an essay I recently wrote for my American Poetry class at Concordia University. A few people seemed interested in the topic, and since people (myself included) are eager for new content, I thought I’d post it on my rarely-used blog. It’s not my best work (my professor gave it an A-), but I enjoyed writing it. I hope you enjoy reading it, too.

Exploring American Identity Through Walt Whitman and Dolly Parton

With his first edition of Leaves of Grass in 1855, Walt Whitman self-published his poetry, and constructed a new, false, pastoral, quintessentially American identity for himself. “Song of Myself” is a poem that is both extremely personal and aiming to be universal. His persona cannot be separated from his reality, as he publicly embodies fully this created identity. It is through this careful persona that he can choose to embody whoever he wants to, whether it is a runaway slave, an elderly woman or a child. Published just before the outbreak of the U S Civil War, Whitman introduced a new way to write poetry, a form that became wholly American. Whitman writes in free verse, without the constraints of traditional rhythm, meter or rhyme. Similarly, country music is a form that has come to be synonymous with Southern American identity. Banjos, steel stringed guitars and a harmonica set under a sweet, southern accented voice singing a story. A sweet, southern accented voice like Dolly Parton’s. Parton’s album, My Tennessee Mountain Home, was released 118 years after Whitman’s original publication. Parton’s work, however, is also something wholly personal, and somehow universal. She sings of rural, southern America, her Tennessee home in the Appalachian Mountains, and somehow succeeds in connecting to almost anyone through her music. Whitman and Parton share many commonalities: undeniably talented, a self-created image, work that continues to connect to large populations. The falseness in Whitman comes from his not being everything he says he is, whereas in Parton it comes from representing and recreating the identity of a poor country girl, one who, in reality, no longer lives in a Tennessee mountain home wearing her coat of many colors. Neither of these artists’ personas can be separated from themselves; they publicly embody fully their created identity. It is through this careful persona that they aim to relate to a vast population of people. This essay does not presume that Whitman or Parton created their respective works with a purpose being disingenuous. Rather, it aims to investigate their respective representations of what it means to be American. Parton uses her unique background and regional history to create a persona that both subverts and utilizes stereotypes of Southern Americans. Whitman uses an appeal to the universal, and free verse to show that America is a country without borders, and full of opportunity.

Throughout “Song of Myself,” Whitman aims to write for everyone while simultaneously investigating his own identity and place in the country. He begins the poem by saying, “I celebrate myself,/And what I assume you shall assume,/For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you” (Whitman 25). These opening lines set up the essential dichotomy in Whitman’s work: it is both simultaneously a personal manifestation of self, and an aim to relate to everyone and anyone. This is continued throughout the rest of the poem, with Whitman’s speaker moving back and forth between the personal and the general. The opening lines of celebration are completely personal, before he quickly moves to an expansion outwards, addressing the reader. These opening lines set up a precedent for the rest of the poem; that the speaker and the reader will be moving through the journey of self-identity together.

Through his universality, Whitman is able to create a generalized image of America, one that is pastoral and rural while also being lively and bustling. While he uses images of farming and the countryside, there is no specificity in place: “The big doors of the country-barn stand open and ready,/The dried grass of the harvest-time loads the slow-drawn wagon” (Whitman 32). These lines could describe any rural section of the country. The character that Whitman created for himself (Whitman as the poet) utilizes generalization to make it so he can represent every group of Americans, while still remaining the specific white man that he is. He portrays himself as one with everything, a simple man loafing in the grass. The poem even contains a self-referential description: “Walt Whitman, an American, one of the roughs, a kosmos,/Disorderly flesh and sensual…eating drinking and breeding,/No sentimentalist…no stander above men and women or apart from them…no more modest than immodest” (Whitman 48). This passage seems self-aware, as Whitman writes about himself in the third person, and could possibly be read as sarcastic. His self-awareness creates a tone of near-hyperbole. He defines himself clearly here as an American, and combines grounded ideals of the flesh and roughness with the idea that he is a “kosmos.” He chooses to use the Greek-originating spelling, rather than the more standard cosmos. This is a biblical reference as well, as kosmos is used in the New Testament to mean the ordering of the universe or the world. Whitman is again using juxtaposition of opposites to say that he is both the entire universe and a simple creature of the flesh.

The final lines of “Song of Myself” are: “Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,/Missing me one place search another,/I stop somewhere waiting for you” (Whitman 86). By beginning the poem “I celebrate myself,” and ending it with “I stop somewhere waiting for you (Whitman 86),” Whitman is enveloping his piece in a celebration first of self, and then of everyone else. The ending lines also add to the idea that he is something to be found everywhere, an omnipresence in the grass and the dirt, which he indeed says only three lines earlier (“I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,/If you want me again look for me under your bootsoles” (Whitman 86)). Through this work he has made himself not only a representation of America, but a product of the very ground the country is built on. Whitman seems to be discovering his identity through this poem, which is perhaps why Leaves of Grass went through so many iterations in his lifetime; he was never fully satisfied with any version of this poem.

There is a difficulty in his aiming to be universal, because he cannot escape the realities of his white, male body. There are many passaged throughout the poem that can be read as problematic: “Through me many long dumb voices,/Voices of the interminable generations of slaves,/Voices of interminable generations of slaves,/Voices of prostitutes and of deformed persons,/Voices of the diseased and despairing, and of thieves and dwarves” (Whitman 48). Here, Whitman as the speaker is saying that he can serve as a voice for the voiceless. While dumb can mean speechless, it also has more common connotations of stupidity and pity. He is the voice for an entire country, yet he is still othering the groups he claims to be able to speak for.

Country music is a form that has come to be synonymous with Southern American identity. Banjos, steel stringed guitars and a harmonica set under a southern accented voice singing a story. This essay offers Dolly Parton as a modern counterpoint to Walt Whitman. She is a contemporary artist who also created a strong public image for herself, one which is inseparable from her reality. She has a strong sense of regionalism in her work, yet, her work is also so personal it becomes universal. Parton’s album, My Tennessee Mountain Home, was released 118 years after Whitman’s original publication of Leaves of Grass. Parton sings of rural, southern America, her Tennessee home in the Appalachian Mountains, and somehow succeeds in connecting to people of many backgrounds and identities through her music.

Whitman and Parton share many commonalities: talented storytellers, rural self-created images, work that continues to connect to large populations. Like “Song of Myself,” Parton’s My Tennessee Mountain Home is also an exploration of the self. There is even an echo of Whitman’s pastoral imagery in the verses of My Tennessee Mountain Home’s title track: “Honeysuckle vine clings to the fence along the lane/Their fragrance makes the summer wind so sweet/And on a distant hilltop, an eagle spreads its wings/And a songbird on a fence post sings a melody” (Parton 1973). This is an image of a perfect America, even including the image of an eagle, an important symbol in the identity of America as a united nation. There is a specificity in place, but a universality in the ideals that Parton is representing. In Dollywood, a theme park in Tennessee based off of the music of Appalachia and Parton, there is a replica of Parton’s childhood home (“Tennessee”). That represents the point being made about Parton’s persona: a fake house in the middle of a theme park of Parton’s life, that is supposed to show the reality of her pastoral life, but in reality, is just a facsimile.

The falseness in Whitman comes from his not being everything he says he is, whereas in Parton it comes from representing and recreating the identity of a poor country girl, one who, in reality, no longer lives in a Tennessee mountain home wearing her coat of many colors. The narrative that Parton perpetuates is another version of the American dream: a hometown, country girl with Hollywood aspirations who finally makes it big yet retains her small-town spirit. There is an obsession with rising to the top. If you just work hard enough, you’ll be able to make it big and earn enough money to graduate out of your lower financial standing. The aforementioned album, My Tennessee Mountain Home, begins with a letter from Parton to her parents, written just after she left for Nashville. She says, “I cried almost all the way to Nashville and I wanted to turn around a few times and come back but you know how bad I’ve always wanted to go to Nashville and be a singer and songwriter and I believe that if I try long enough and hard enough that someday I’ll make it” (Parton 1973). Her story is quintessentially American, and although Parton actively defies many of the stereotypes of the poor, dumb farmer from Appalachia, she feeds directly into the pull-yourself-by-your-bootstraps version of American identity. Graham Hoppe’s recent essay, “Icon and Identity: Dolly Parton’s Hillbilly Appeal,” says that: “What Dolly Parton understands is that the “hillbilly” aspects of her upbringing, her origin story, endear her to people who share that background and create an unmistakable air of authenticity for those who don’t” (Hoppe 50). There is a careful creation for both Parton and Whitman of an identity that serves this very purpose.

Parton’s identity, however, cannot be as actively defiant as Whitman’s. Although she wrote her album over a century after Whitman’s original publication, she works under the restraints of being a young woman in an era and a region where defiance was not tolerated. Whitman writes: “My flesh and blood playing out lightning, to strike what is hardly different from myself/On all sides prurient provokers stiffening my limbs,/Straining the udder of my heart for its withheld drip,/Behaving licentious towards me[…]/Unbuttoning my clothes and holding me by the bare waist” (Whitman 53). This “masturbatory sequence” is carnal and sexual, and a move towards the self, creating a detachment from the everyman narrative in other sections of the poem. The sexuality of “Song of Myself” does not discredit the work, however, a passage such as the one above is an example of the presence of Whitman’s masculinity. Parton’s identity is defined in opposition to this facet of Whitman; she is a feminine, sweet, home-grown girl. “Back Home” is a song about homesickness, and while Parton sings “I’ve spent a lot of time a’ wishin’ I could go back home,” she prefaces it by saying that “I got a letter from mama/And mama asked if I’d come back home/She says it sure is lonesome now” (Parton 1973). Her persona is rooted in selflessness, and the album as a whole contains no mentions of sexuality, and very little mention of any of her personal desires. She is working within a mode that does not support outright expressions of politics, or expressions of non-feminine ideals from women. Whitman had more freedom as a white man in 1855 than Parton did as a woman in 1973.

It is difficult to encompass the entire breadth of America in a single, dogmatic phrase, other than perhaps that the country’s history is extremely troublesome and difficult to reckon with. Whitman created the persona of himself as a poet in order to authenticate his work, to have a physical image that matches the one within the poem, of an everyman loafing in the grass. His creation of a new form of poetry became one that was quintessentially American, filled with ideals of equality and republicanism. Parton’s identity is similarly American, patriotic, and accessible despite being so personal to her lived experiences. She uses her specific, regional identity to relate to a larger audience. Whitman uses personal and universal identity to do the same. Although their respective personas are constructed, there is a balance of this identity being partially false and partially genuine.

Word Count: 2,132

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Bratcher, Robert G. “The Meaning of Kosmos, ‘World’, in the New Testament.” The Bible

Translator, vol. 31, no. 4, Oct. 1980, pp. 430–434, doi:10.1177/026009438003100406.

Hoppe, Graham. “Icon and Identity: Dolly Parton’s Hillbilly Appeal.” Southern Cultures, Spring

2017, pp. 49-62.

Parton, Dolly. “The Letter.” My Tennessee Mountain Home, Sony Music Entertainment, 1973.

Spotify, https://open.spotify.com/track/1YoTDvJQc5z5o41fY625g2?si=RMepDH2eQeutlcKS5vnN3Q.

Parton, Dolly. “My Tennessee Mountain Home.” My Tennessee Mountain Home, Sony Music

Entertainment, 1973. Spotify, https://open.spotify.com/track/6rQlfR31QLNCBrq0no1Qc2?si=hsGbfgrqTRuFD75GFAp0JQ.

Parton, Dolly. “Back Home.” My Tennessee Mountain Home, Sony Music Entertainment, 1973.

Spotify, https://open.spotify.com/track/0Jn4IO19QCHrp4S968Mu8A?si=NM28HO-9SsmUzFWdJbiPhA.

“Tennessee-Mountain-Home.” Dollywood Parks & Resorts,

http://www.dollywood.com/themepark/Rides/Tennessee-Mountain-Home.

Whitman, Walt. “Song of Myself.” Leaves of Grass: The First (1855) Edition, Viking Penguin

Incorporated, 1959.

 

Fuck You, Allen Ginsberg II

I’m writing to you again, Ginsberg.

This time, not as some misplaced pine for a boy I don’t know anymore.

This time, not as a metaphor for the blame I can’t place on anyone else.

This time, it’s just for you.

I guess you could say I refuse to give up my obsession.

I hope you’re rolling in your minty, cancerous grave.

You write pretty words.

Wrote, sorry, you’re dead now,

(You died just before your seventy-first birthday)

(I only know this because Wikipedia told me)

You wrote pretty words.

Pretty, mixed up words that became rantings about sanity and America and Walt Whitman in a grocery store.

Words so pretty even I was convinced that they had meaning.

But you were an ugly man, Ginsberg.

An ugly, mixed up man with a beer belly and stained undershirts and a frizzy, greying beard.

Is it obsession or just disdain?

I don’t much care for you, sir, yet I can’t stop seeing connections to you.

Your real first name is Irwin, and I’m Irvine.

We’re both Jews, which doesn’t really mean anything but it’s there.

We’re both “poets,” I guess, although I don’t think I can put myself at your level because I’m not even twenty and I most certainly do not have poems beloved around the world.

Then again, I have a professor who knew you and he says he doesn’t even consider you a poet,

So maybe neither of us are poets or we’re both “poets” or you’re a poet and I’m nothing yet.

Are we both holy? Holy, holy, holy…

Do you know you spawned a generation of artists who glorify your work?

(Mostly young men)

Who read Howl and smoke pot and think they’re some kind of intellectual.

Dreams, drugs, waking nightmares etc.

But as that aforementioned professor also said, this glorification of your work leads to the glorification of you as a person, and he thinks that you’ve lead plenty of men to be drunks who hit on their creative writing students.

He also thinks you and Kerouac and rock ‘n’ roll and jazz lead to the bastardization of Canada, so who knows if I should trust him.

Those

(Mostly young men)

Who love you, Ginsberg, often turn out to be insufferable, with an idea placed in their heads by “Howl” and On the Road and Kill Your Darlings that doing drugs will make them more of an artist.

You came to the university I now attend

(decades back)

to give a talk and you spent twenty minutes going on about how people are just souls or spirits or whatever and that intergenerational sex shouldn’t be stopped but I don’t think it had anything to do with spirituality,

I just think you wanted to fuck teenage boys in your fifties.

I’m all for free speech, sir, but you were a paedophile.

I can’t separate the artist from his work.

Does any of this even make sense?

What do I know, right?

I’m just a kid, who am I to judge award winning poet Allen Ginsberg?

Another professor said my work reminded her of you, she said a poem I wrote titled “Fuck You, Allen Ginsberg” reminded her of your work.

I was insulted and flattered and found it funny because I’ve only ever read one of your poems.

I mean, it’s hard, right?

Maybe you weren’t all bad.

You were an advocate for gay rights and marijuana legalization and you were against smoking cigarettes which is really, truly, all good with me.

But you were an ugly, mixed-up man.

I’d like to kindly ask you to exit my life.

Which I guess is really more on me than on you.

Fuck you, Allen Ginsberg, if that wasn’t clear enough.

Starving hysterical naked.

Just, fuck you.

Fuck You, Allen Ginsberg

I bought a copy of Howl (And Other Poems) and it made me think about him.

I remember the time we stood outside a pub and both silently realized we had hid our smoking habits from each other when it had mattered what we hid from each other

(eight months back)

His were hand rolled, and I thought of course and laughed in my head.

Mine were minty and cancerous.

I bought a copy of the Pocket Poems Number Four of Howl (And Other Poems) and it made me think about him.

Just like anyone saying Ginsberg or Kerouac or wearing a white fisherman sweater makes me think about him.

And I’m not in love with him anymore, I swear to God and my new boyfriend, I’m not.

Dumplings remind me of him and he was my first love

(eight months back)

but I never told him that.

I remember the place we went to on our third date or something and it was cheap and in London’s tiny Chinatown and he read my short story but I don’t think he understood it.

I bought a copy of the Pocket Poets Series Number Four of Howl (And Other Poems) by Allen Ginsberg with an introduction by William Carlos Williams and I sent him a message

(minty and cancerous)

and it seemed easy and it was the first time we talked since February

(eight months back)

and it’s been three days and I still don’t know how to feel about it.

I don’t even know who he is anymore, to me anymore or who he is anymore.

The day after I bought a copy of Howl (And Other Poems) I walked to a museum and paused occasionally to pull my frigid hands out of my mid-November pockets and type a slow message to him;

A picture of my copy of Howl (And Other Poems) that cost me four dollars and ninety-five cents and “Who am I, 2015’s His Name Here?”

“There are so many better things you can be.”

He carried the same version of Howl (And Other Poems) around in his pockets

(Pocket Poets)

Not sure if he still does but he continued our conversation by admitting he wants to display “Big Howl” (a copy I gifted him for his seventeenth birthday) on the coffee table at his new apartment if his flat-mates will stand for it and if they can find a coffee table.

I remember he used to read passages when he was drunk at parties, an annoyingly, endearingly pretentious habit.

I bought a copy of Howl (And Other Poems) and I’ve read thirteen lines.

I remember when we rolled blunts on his bathroom tiles

(minty and cancerous)

and I remember sleeping in his childhood bed and I remember walking his dog and I remember collapsing halfway up his street and choking on my sadness because I couldn’t let him see me so weak because I was hurt because I remembered because I rode the train alone because I ignored the other passengers because with tears streaming down my flaming cheeks because “I’m a passionate guy” because I was just a kid because it’s been almost two years so why does it hit me like it was yesterday sometimes because I’m not in love with him anymore I swear to God and my new boyfriend and everyone.

So, fuck you, Allen Ginsberg.

Fuck you and your poem for making me feel so much before I even turned a page.

 

“A long time ago, being crazy meant something. Now, everyone’s crazy.”

I sit in the garden

I am protected by the brown fence high on every side

So high that I can’t see over it on my five-foot-six-inch tip toes

I chain smoke and read a book about Charles Manson

The sky and my sweater are the same and grey, like the ash that clings to my sleeves

A small spider connects one end of its web to my fraying jeans (frayed like me, thin and cheap)

and the other end to the chair at my feet

 

I look up and the squirrels are closing in on me

They are planning their attack of bombs made of pine cones

The pigeons are in on it, too

But their bombs are bird shit

 

I turn my head and spit a fat glob of nicotine laced saliva onto the broken and dirty stone patio

The boys next door come out to enjoy the mild, dingy weather and they bring their obnoxious music with them

My neck hurts and I wonder if its cancer as the sun starts to set

Should I go inside and make myself a snack? I’m not hungry but at least the eating fills one part

of me

I pick at the skin on the side of my thumb

I have to cut my nails short and paint them red because otherwise there are yellow stains at their tips

I only have one bottle of polish which I replace for 99 cents every time it runs out or gets too gummy or the cap gets stuck to the rim

 

Yellow stains at my fingertips like daddy’s but he couldn’t hide vices under red polish

I think I can hide them

Mama would hate the way I am now

 

My wrists are heavy with seven rings, nine bracelets and a watch

All collected when there was such a thing as family vacations

 

I sit in the garden collecting cancer

Charles Manson hides in the trees and breathes in my smoke

Drops pine cones on my head

I think I’ll go make myself a snack

A Nursery Rhyme for My Mom

img_2573.jpgMother dearest, mother dear

Do not cry or live in fear

Just because I’ve inked my skin

Doesn’t mean a single thing

Do not shudder, do not sob

I think I still can get a job

I did not put it on my face

Or choose a hated sign of race

 

It’s not the name of a lover scornedIMG_2575

Or on my back, some devil horns

I make myself adorned with art

And a single, silly little heart

Do not shout and do not scold

I know they won’t look good when I’m old

Mother dearest, mother dear

It’s just not really that big of a deal

 

 

 

Thanks to photographer and friend Carla, whose wonderful blog and photography can be found here.

The Tame and Wild Olive Tree

*I adapted this piece from a short story I originally titled Wear Me Like a Winter Jacket which I posted on this blog in May of 2016. I’ve been in a poetry course for a little over a semester, and have found that where some of my single moment oriented pieces fell flat as short fiction, they translate well into prose poetry.*

The Tame and Wild Olive Tree

“How’s work?” Question.

“Great, mom.” Answer.

“And Will, how is he?” Prying question.

“Doing just fine, mom.” Blank answer.

“A proposal in the works? A grandchild, maybe?” Prying question.

“Not anytime soon, mom.” Avoid answer.

“And what about-” Cut off.

“Hey, mom, I’ve got work to do, sorry to cut it short.” Bite your thumb, tear a strip of salted skin down its length.

“Oh, of course sweetheart! I love you!” Desperate, sad, full of exclamation points.

“You too, mom. Bye.” End call before inevitable One more thing!

You sigh, shift pillows under your back, reach for pack on your table. Light cigarette with match, pull deep, watch blue smoke curl out of your lungs. Fill room with choke.

You don’t enjoy lying to mother, keep saying you’ll tell her the truth, truth is it’s just easier not to. The cigarette clicks as it exits your mouth. Baltimore is far from Salt Lake. She hasn’t visited since first year, you were still in school then, still living in a clean dorm on campus. Five years, more than enough time for good habits to become chain smoking and daily cheap wine.

You’d picked Salt Lake because it’s what good Mormons do, realized you were stuck somewhere you’ll detest forever only after breaking up with Will. You miss him, sometimes, then you remember he cried after every orgasm, hated most of your friends. Nothing else could be expected from a BYU boy. You only see him on TV, second row in The Tabernacle Choir.

You couldn’t imagine what mother would say if she saw your apartment, cluttered with not vacuuming, candles, half-pots of coffee, books filled with portraits of naked bodies.

Being able to hold down a steady job is relieving, it pays well, a boring position that is suitable for saving money. Saving money to drive yourself out of this Mormon hellhole. Daydream as you sit at a desk, send emails for someone else.

Daydream; Racing across icy tundra, through the Amazonian rainforest, climbing peaks. Maybe you’ve saved plenty, maybe your mind is stopping you, maybe your mind is shouting coward! on repeat.

You light another when there’s a quiet knock on your door.

“You know you don’t have to knock.” Playful statement.

She pushes the door open, small in an XL BYU Class of 2015 sweatshirt, baggy cut-offs, pads the short distance from the entrance to your mattress, plucks cigarette from your fingers. You grab her free hand, pull her to you, soft body folds easily into your lap. Long chestnut hair settles on shoulders.

Pass the cigarette back and forth, no prying questions, blank answers, avoidance. Last pull, drop the butt into a half empty glass of water on the floor. Sunset spews gold light.

Brush her curls back, kiss her neck, think maybe this is why you’re still here. Not money, not cowardice, but her. Best part of every day, when she crawls into bed in varying stages of undress, asks what you want for dinner.

She’s wonderful. She stays wonderful. She stays.

heart/chest/heart/beat

I used to be afraid of drums

When we went to parades

And I sat on my father’s shoulders

I could feel them in my chest and it scared me

I wanted to run and hide

I didn’t love music

I didn’t live for it, like I do now

Now I hear that beat

And I realize I feel it in my heart,

Not my chest

 

When I was younger

I didn’t love the stage

The theatre bored me

I had no interest in watching people perform

but that changed a some point in my youth

Now, performance is what I live for

Although I was born to be spectator first,

Performer second

Rarely and never necessary

 

I wonder if

When she sits there

In the back row

Legs crossed and a smirk

Like some kind of rock and roll goddess

I wonder if

She wants him

I wonder if

She knows he’s still hers

When he puts on an actor’s mask

And picks up an instrument

When he’s a rockstar for the night or just the hour

I wonder if

Is he looking at me?

Object Permanence

sugar,

water,

purple petals sprinkled

and mixed in a big silver pot

reduced and strained, poured

into a tall glass bottle

shaped like Paris’ favorite monument

kept in the fridge

to be combined with penguin seltzer

in an ice-filled glass

when the summer has finally warmed enough

to sit outside,

on a pink and green quilt,

and sip

those purple petals

adorn the dashboard

of a character I made up

named after a Norse goddess

and turned into a werewolf

the same small purple petals

that a broadcasting company attached to my story

when they marked me as top five

and made my name worth googling

and solidified my place as a writer

sugar,

water,

purple petals

that I want attached to me, drawn

permanently

as a reminder

of hot summer days when the lavender bloomed

and the bees went mad,

swarming our overflowing garden

as a reminder,

too,

that creativity is not a choice for me

writing,

regardless of who does

or doesn’t

shortlist my words,

is as much a part of me

as the ink on my skin

importantly permanent

a reminder,

too

that I am an artist

that I am a writer

that I am still the girl on the pink and green quilt

It Didn’t Happen Like This

He noticed her when he walked in. She had mousy brown hair and a smile that looked like it shared a secret with her eyes. She was drinking espresso out of a tiny cup that didn’t match its saucer and writing in a notebook, surrounded by the debris of an artist at work. Pen caps, ink smudges and empty mugs laid in her wake. She looked up when he walked in, just like she looked up when anyone did, searching for someone to incorporate into her stories. Their eyes caught for a second, sending her blushing and him coughing awkwardly into his fist. He ordered his coffee, something he hated but drank anyway because it fit his image.

He watched her slyly, and when his heavy latte was placed into his hand, he took a small leap of faith. Footsteps approached her small window table, but she was busy now, half deafened by the voices yelling in her head. “Hi,” he said. She finished scribbling, a pointed period punctuating the uncomfortable pocket of silence inside the crowded coffee shop. “Can I sit?” The cup shook a bit in his uneasy fingers. She had been approached before, her silence there only because confrontation made her clam up. He pulled out the empty chair across from her and sat, sending her stomach fluttering. He was well dressed in a simple grey sweater that matched the sky outside.

“You’re a writer?” He waited, she blinked. “Aren’t writers supposed to be good with words?” She smiled at him, laughed a little.

“Only on paper, evidently.”

He looked relieved, now that her mouth had opened. Two sets of shoulders relaxed. Luckily they had enough to talk about, so him and her because us/we/them on a rainy, fateful summer afternoon.