As we approached the theatre, Ann took my picture under the Poetry on the Buses marquis. We made our way through a crowd onto a bus parked in front of the theatre. Because we were afraid the bus might take us to Ballard, we exited quickly, but later re-entered to read poems by local writers where advertising usually reigned. My photo was in a collage of sixteen poets' black and white portraits. In the photo, I am looking directly into the camera, my left eye clearly pointed towards my nose, as it has been since neurosurgery to remove a brain tumor seven years ago. (I had told the photographer that I wanted my disabilities to be obvious, so I was happy with this picture.) As my friend Donna pointed out, I am in the upper left corner, an important corner.
Inside the theatre, I was greeted by a woman at a reception table as "one of our poets." I stuck a name tag to my sweater which read, "Mary Edwards, Poet." From the name tag hung a red ribbon which read "I AM THE POETIC VOICE OF KING COUNTY." Well, really it's me and 365 other poets, including my friend, the poet Kathy Paul. On a balcony in the reception area a band played, and each of the 165 poems rolled, lit, onto the wall. Some folks drank wine. The place murmured with energy.
Ann held my hand, helping me weave through the crowd into the theatre, where we found seats for ourselves and our friends. Fairly quickly, the place filled and I could hear Somali, Vietnamese, Russian and Spanish in the crowd. On stage, my friend the poet Roberto Ascalon approached the lectern to begin the ceremony while the band "Love, City, Love" played.
Thirty-five poems were organized into five "chapters" that told the story of coming home: coming up the walk, fumbling with the keys, opening the door, stepping inside and dropping my bags, and resting in the place I call home. Poets approached the mic, and each read a poem of less than 50 words--some in English and some in the four most common immigrant languages in the county. Between each chapter, Love City Love played with a poet.
The first man who read, a man of Indian descent, rolled to the mic in his wheelchair, and I warmed with the welcome of a disabled person. One older woman entered the stage in a golden Vietnamese dress and read her poem in Vietnamese. Afterwards, another local poet who is bilingual read the poem in English. When Roberto introduced Carlos, a boy perhaps in middle school or elementary school, I saw Carlos's head as he stepped out from the curtain. When he saw the crowd, his eyes widened and he quickly disappeared backstage again. Later in the performance, Korvus Blackbird, a very, very tall black man with a stunningly deep voice came on stage with his arm around young Carlos, who sobbed through a poem about fighting with his younger brother.
Some poems were funny, and others made me cry. Some were clever and others earnest. The evening's variety embraced and went beyond the many languages and poetic traditions. One of my favorite poems was a haiku that went something like this:
Grandma loves haiku
That never make any sense.
Another favorite described cleaning a loved one's home in her absence--perhaps they had broken up--using parts of speech in surprising ways: "I washed your adverbs down the disposal."
I didn't perform at this celebration, though I did get to perform at a bar during Lit Crawl a few weeks ago. Friends came that night, too, and it was powerful to hear the audience's response, its exhalation when I read the last line of my poem: