Nearly twelve summers ago, I was 15. I was free, crazy, had just decided no way to the Mormons, had just left the confines of a mental institution, had my first serious boyfriend, and I was living. I remember those days pretty well (despite the fact that I had to seriously think about how old I was when this memory occurred).
That summer, my mom and I couldn’t handle each other. I think it is always a product of me working my program (I am a PTSD sufferer) and realizing that she is not working her program and also is a shitty mom (if you’re reading this, I hope you and I have already talked about this stuff, Ma). It was also the first year my favorite sister and brother-in-law moved to Seattle…far from my home pastures. So, for several weeks that summer, I was shipped to stay with them. I remember how warm Seattle was, how beautiful West Seattle was in particular, how much I loved spending every day gardening and running with my Akita. I remember LOVING Seattle. Sigh, I fucking love West Seattle even still. It was a great time.
My sister sucked even more than my mom or maybe about the same (they have the same issues), but she opened the door to the awesome, amazing human being she married. Before they had kids, my brother-in-law was super cool, and he wanted everyone to know it. He was an executive chef in a gorgeous location downtown, making great money, and loving every second of the city life. And boy do I also love city life. He loved anime, which he also exposed me to (note to self: get Key on Netflix again), he exposed me to the wonders of Netflix, he loved cool music, and he loved local before loving local was cool.
That summer, my brother-in-law took me to all the things my sister never wanted to go to with him: blues festivals (we had tickets to John Lee Hooker’s last ever on Earth concert), amazing food (we drove down to Portland to eat at the “up-and-coming” Higgins restaurant), tax-free Oregon shopping!!, wine (I tasted my first flight of red that summer…and I am eternally grateful), art house films (we saw Magnolia), and poetry. Actually, we saw the world championships of slam poetry at the Paramount Theatre.
At the Paramount Theatre, I met a college kid, not much older than myself, from San Diego, CA, named Jonathan Yaffe. Jon is now a very successful entrepreneur living in Japan, and I have since lost touch with him. But that’s neither here nor there. I am convinced that Jonathan changed me. To this day, I still read his chapbook on a yearly basis. Why? What’s so special about this guy who no longer slams poetry? Well, first off, Jon admitted, through Slam, that he attended the same mental institution I did. Then, he rapped off a rhyme a little like this (this is by far my favorite, but I’d let you decide for yourself):
I love you–Period.
And it’s not a cute little pooky wooky love
It’s not muskrat love
We’re not kittens purring at each other’s meows
But my love isn’t a tiger either;
My love is an Emu.
It’s kind of weird looking
You’ve probably never seen a love like mine before
And it’s really hard for me to define in terms of animals
But give me some time and I’ll try.
In 3rd grade I was called on to read a story out loud
about Johnny Appleseed and when
I got to the part in parentheses
which was going to explain:
where he was from
who he was
why he traveled endless meadows
planting seeds in the ground
I had no idea what to do.
People always told me parentheses were a subthought
A more subtle statement
And I don’t want to read it aloud
Teacher said:”Read what’s in the parentheses Jonny”
and I protested:”parentheses were supposed to be silent”
I wasn’t going to read the parentheses
And it still is silent…
And now, I love you.
Look, I’m not obsessed.
I don’t faint when I see you
I don’t want to marry you just yet
I just love:how I feel around you.
I just love:like an Emu.
I just said “I love you” and left out all the rest.
I wanted to explain that I would be good for you
I’m not just a tease
That yes, I’m madly in love with you
But I’m not saying any of this:
Because it’s all in parentheses.
You are the cure for the love blues
the constellation reds
the insomnia nights covered in white
You tattooed my skin into a flag
And it was not enough that you became
Prime Minister of my Heart
I needed a dictator of my soul.
You taught me to love the moon
when there were no stars in the sky.
I wanted to tell you all of this….
Where I’m coming from
Who I am
Why I traveled endless miles
Just to tell you how I feel about you
You see, A lot of things don’t make sense
when you don’t read the parentheses
Details give meaning to Democracy,
they add colors to monochrome literature
parentheses let you better understand emotion
they allow philosophy to become more stable.
But because I didn’t read between the parentheses in 3rd grade,
I never realized Johnny Appleseed was just a fable.
And here’s the distinction,
If meaning without parentheses fails
Then love can’t be Johnny Appleseed
and emotion can’t be fairy tales
I wanted you to realize that your love is a purple unicorn
dancing with Cinderella on the heads of the 7 dwarfs
emus and fairytales singing in unison
but I never read parentheses out loud
and all that comes out is…
I love you.
That night, I fell in love with not only love or the potential fairytale-like idea of love, I fell in love with the art of slamming. It can be funny, it can be witty, it can be dark, it can be profound. My poems stayed dark but also sometimes got more tangential, and that is all because of this wondrous night. Thank you to my brother-in-law, thank you to Jonathan Yaffe, thank you to Big Poppa E and Brian Andreas….
Speaking of Big Poppa E, I have to give him a shout out. He has been my true idol, my inspiration, my favorite ‘N’, the reason I started blogging in 2002, the reason I hid my blogging for years, the reason I kept journals…oh, Eirik, YOU…thanks for giving me a rebirth at 15. Because now, I know when someone loves me before he EVER says it. Poetry saved my life. Poetry changed my life.