In Which Poem In Your Pocket Day Goes Terribly Wrong
About once a year, I get together with a group of women and we share stories of our all-time most embarrassing moments. It’s always a little bit uncomfortable for me, because everyone else has to scratch their head for a long time, and then, after much thought, reveals something not very embarrassing, like, “One time, I think I was 2, and I wet my pants,” while mine is more like, “One time when I was 24, I took my shirt off while hiking alone in Alaska, and then I lost the shirt and had to spend three hours randomly walking across the tundra looking for it while I contemplated the possibility that I’d have to flag down the tourist bus wearing only shorts and hiking boots.”
So I added a rule that it has to be fresh – something that happened within the past couple of weeks. I thought that would help, but really, it’s made it much worse. The other women say things like, “A few weeks ago, I coughed really loudly during a quiet part in the movies.” And let’s just say mine isn’t like that.
That time of year is coming up, so I’ve been studying my plethora of embarrassing moments, considering what I might share.
Anyway, last night, I texted N. and Ms. Pasta: “Poem in your pocket day tomorrow. Be prepared. This is going to be big!”
N. replied, ignoring the whole poem thing: “Uh, did you leave something in my car when we went to lunch?”
“Nope,” I responded.
“Oh, right. You mean my tiny digital recorder.” It’s hard to explain over text, without seeming creepy, why I would be carrying a concealed voice recorder in my pocket when we went to lunch, so I stopped replying. There’s a long explanation that I don't think is creepy at all. Maybe I'll explain at a later time. At any rate, it seemed like a contender for the embarrassing moment potluck, and a good one too, because it doesn't make me look ridiculous.
But I’d like to recall your attention to the part where N. didn’t even comment abut Poem in your Pocket Day. I think that means something, and its not necessarily good. “Yeah, whatever, one of Betsy’s freaky little holidays. Ignore. But while I’m thinking of it, I should try to find out what, exactly, she’s secretly recording during lunch…”
I was so excited about Poem In your Pocket Day. I anticipated literary richness all over the place, where shopkeepers and permit applicants and random people on the street would be trading poems with one another, and celebrating the textures and sounds and images conjured by words.
To prepare, I printed a document that I’ve populated over the years with poems that I love. I like to have my favorites available in case one of my children needs a verse in his or her shoe.
I got to work and located Ms. Pasta.
“I have a business idea for you,” she said.
“I have a poem for you.”
“Awesome. My idea is this: you’re really good at making the workplace fun. I think you could sell that.”
“Um, I can totally see that working out. I’ll go to employers and say, ‘hey, hire me to come hang around and make everyone a little less productive!’ I think this is going to be a money-maker! Now read your poem.” (In case you’re wondering, I gave her Wendell Barry’s Manifesto: Mad Farmer’s Liberation Front).
About then, our boss, The Baron, entered the room. “Hey, Baron, do you have a poem in your pocket?”
“Do you want one?”
“One what? I wasn’t even listening to you. Something about my pocket? I have keys in my pocket.”
I would like to describe The Baron as an upstanding, happily married, florsheim-shoe and polyester pants-wearing Lutheran man.
“Wow,” said Ms. Pasta. “She’s not even gone yet. Are you really going to stop listening to her already? “
“Oh, sorry, what were you asking?”
So I re-did my spiel about Poem in Your Pocket day.
“Is this something you made up?”
“See?” said Ms. Pasta said, giving me a cheerful look, as though it’s a good thing that people suspect me of making up weird holidays involving their pocket.
“Don’t worry that you showed up on this important day empty-handed, Baron. I brought a poem for you.”
“You did?” He seemed genuinely touched. “I actually need to talk to you about a permit. Come into my office.”
So I went to my desk, rifled through my stack of poems, some that I hadn’t read in a year or more, and grabbed one. I read the first few lines of The Loon, and thought, yeah, this is kind of interesting. I scanned it and saw the word, “boss”, and decided it was perfect, without really reading it. (Yeah, insert ominous music here if you must.)
I handed it to him when I got into his office. “First, you have to read this out loud, and then, carry it in your pocket all day.”
“Really? That’s how it works?”
“Yep.” The reading it out loud part was my own creation. I added that because I remembered that I had liked the poem, but hadn’t heard it in a long time. Pretending it was part of the ritual seemed like a good idea.
“So you really brought this just for me?”
“Yes. Now read it.”
“Okay,” he began.
The Loon, by James Tate
A loon woke me this morning. It was like waking up in another world. I had no idea what was expected of me. I waited for instructions. Someone called and asked me if I wanted a free trip to Florida. I said, “Sure. Can I go today?” A man in a uniform picked me up in a limousine, and the next thing I know I’m being chased by an alligator across a parking lot. A crowd gathers and cheers me on.
He interrupts his reading. “Really, you brought this poem for me?” He seems pretty stuck on the point, and I reassure him that yes, indeed, I selected it just for him.
Of course, none of this really happened. I’m still sleeping. I don’t want to go to work. I want to know what the loon is saying. It sounds like ecstasy tinged with unfathomable terror. One thing is certain: at least they are not speaking of tax shelters.
Did you write this yourself,” he asks?
“No. It’s by James Tate.”
The phone rings. It’s my boss. She says, “Where are you?” I say, “I don’t know. I don’t recognize my surroundings. I think I’ve been kidnapped. If they make demands of you, don’t give in. That’s my professional advice.”
He laughs. “This is a good poem.” He continues reading.
Just then, the loon let out a tremendous looping, soaring,
swirling, quadruple whoop. “My god, are you alright?” my
boss said. “In case we do not meet again, I want you to know
that I’ve always loved you, Agnes,” I said. “What?” she said.
“What are you saying?” “Good-bye, my darling. Try to remember me
as your ever loyal servant,” I said. “Did you say you loved
me?” she said. I said, “Yes,” and hung up.
It got awkward at this point. Instead of saying something right away, like “Oh wow, I forgot this was in here, ha ha ha how funny!” I silently, and most uncomfortably listened, as he read faster and faster, but not quite fast enough. I sat there wondering what he was thinking: That I faked a poetry holiday, forced him to read a love poem aloud to me, and not just any love poem, but one about an employee confessing love for the boss. No, not very awkward at all, this moment. It's good that we had so firmly established that I had selected this particular poem just for him.
I tried to go back to sleep, but the idea of being kidnapped had me
quite worked up. I looked in the mirror for signs of torture.
Every time the loon cried, I screamed and contorted my face
in agony. They were going to cut off my head and place it on
a stake. I overheard them talking. They seemed like very
reasonable men, even, one might say, likeable.
“Great poem. Thanks. I’ve gotta dash off to a meeting now,” he said awkwardly when he finished reading. “Great poem.”
It is possible that I will use this as my embarrassing moment this year, but I still have a week and a half to go.