She walked into my library with legs wrapped in yoga pants, wrapped in magic.
I looked up from Robert Frost, feeling warm.
She wasn’t glamourous, but I detected a glamour beneath those large black-rimmed glasses pushing her red-tinted bangs to one side and magnifying her blue manga eyes.
Jump up! my mind screamed. Take her by the hands and carry her into a dance. But I played it cool, trying to pretend I was still reading about roads and saws. She kept moving toward me, flowing like a goddess across the carpet, until she paused in front of my desk. So I hit her with my winning line. “Can I help you?”
She smiled, taking her time. “If you can’t, nobody can.”
I tipped my head and put in my bookmark.
“I’m in trouble. I don’t know where to turn.” She put one delicate hand over her lips, taking a deep breath.
“Is this a library related problem?” I glanced at the sign in front of me that said, ‘Information.’
She put her hands on the desk and bit her lip. I imagined how nice it must be to bite that lip. “Maybe. I don’t know. You’re going to think I’m stupid.”
“You can trust me.” Did I just say that?
“I need a poem.” She crossed her arms and leaned back, frustrated. “See? I told you it was dumb. I shouldn’t have asked.”
“A poem?” I raise my eyebrows. In all my time as a librarian, I never experienced any words so tantalizing. But I had to play it suave or she’d take off like a juvenile pyromaniac after lighting a building up like a torch. “Just any poem, or a specific one?”
“I don’t know.” She turned to look at the stacks fanning out before us, setting down on the edge of my desk.
“Whitman, Browning, Elliot?” I lifted my book, glad for a chance to make a show of it.
“Something new. Something different. I feel like the spark’s gone out of my life. Since my last boyfriend left, nothing touches me. I want something to pull me out of this funk and make me fall in love with life again.”
I never thought much about my name before, but at that moment, I wished it was Life. Life Smith, or maybe George Life. My heart raced. Did I have the courage to be bold?
“Do you have anything like that?” A lock of her hair fell down as she looked at me over the rim of her glasses.
I only nodded, since I couldn’t make any words come out. Then inspiration hit me. It wasn’t a light bulb, it was lighting. I leaned back into my chair, touching my fingertips together in a triangle. “Do you have a little bit of time?”
She frowned, or pouted. I’m not sure which. I knew what to say now, nothing could stop the course of these words.
“I get off at six. I think I have just the poem for you. Can you hang out until then?”
She closed her eyes. Had I been too forward? She took a deep breath. “Okay.”
I gave her my most reassuring smile. “Don’t worry. I have it, but it won’t work here.”
She tipped her head to the side. “Why not?”
“You’ll see. It’s nearby. The poem you want, it’s something special. It’s worth the walk.”
She slid off my desk without a word and disappeared behind a shelf. What could she possibly want in the six-hundred section? Applied Science?
I tore my mind away from the triviality. All the years of my awkward adolescence, sitting in creative writing class instead of athletics; plus college, dissecting sentences and writing about metaphors; I always knew there was a reason. Today, the reason became crystal clear.
I swiped books and papers from my desk, drawing a number of quizzical looks from annoyed patrons. Nonplussed, I pulled a worn leather book out of the pocket of the jacket perched on the back of my desk chair. I unwound the thong tying it closed and opened to a clean piece of beige paper. I twisted the cap off my fountain pen, and set the ball down on the page.
As the blob of ink slowly spread, my mind sifted through sonnets and verses I’d memorized. All the structures and rhyming schemes scrolled through my brain, vying to be chosen. With a single snort, I laughed them all away. Nothing but raw free prose would do.
The pen began to slide, slowly at first, then faster. Possessed, driven, insane, I let the words gush, like blood from a mortal wound. I smeared the ink with my hand as I carved into the paper with the metal tip, like running a chisel across stone.
When I reached the end, I slammed the book shut and tied it. I would not read it or edit a single word. On this single draft, I balanced my fate.
I next saw her face peering at me from a different aisle. Had she been spying? Was I so engrossed that I didn’t notice her watching? All the self-doubt of decades rose like a tidal wave to crush me. My cheeks burned red. She stepped cautiously out. I think she was debating if she should run.
Unbroken, I grabbed my jacket and walked around the side of the desk. I kept eye-contact, surfing the wave forward, riding above its energy. Before she said anything, I put out my hand. “Ready?”
She hesitated. I didn’t wait. I smiled, took her hand gently, and led her out the sliding glass doors.
Before she shivered in the autumn chill, I handed her my jacket. She perched it over her shoulders, since I wouldn’t let go of her hand.
I pulled her through the doors of the bar, only stopping once we both sat at a small table. The band never played any regular songs. They just jammed jazz all night, every night. Sometimes it swelled, sometimes it simmered, but it was always right.
“What are we doing here?” she asked. I knew she didn’t hate the place, but she had to protest on principle.
I shook my head. “Your poem, remember.”
I held up a finger. “I have it.” I turned and stepped up on the tiny stage. She sat on a too tall barstool at a little round table, eyes a mix of curiosity and worry.
The place was too small to need a mic, and I had an open invitation to read anytime. The bass player tipped his hat toward the girl I dragged to the show. I put out one hand and brought it down just a bit. The band followed the bass down as he stirred a blue rhythm. Then I lifted my book and read.
No doctor, I
No surgery with a pen
For healing comes after cutting
And this rhyme won’t slice
A physician cannot repair
The Biological meat sack
A psychologist cannot patch
The disconnected brain
These are organic
They must heal themselves
So a doctor is a magician
With smoke and mirrors armed
And I will never deceive you
Love at first sight
A children’s fairy tale
Yet you ran over me like a truck
And I cannot let you walk out of my life
A poem you beg
To heal a wounded heart
Instead I give you this
A piece of me
It is not a drug
It’s just a spark
But it beats with passion
Kindled with power the instant I saw you
Thus I give you but your own
And pray you swallow it whole
Take me in
And heal yourself
Then the fairy tale becomes real
And we two
We are healed