July 12th: After the Slam Poetry Competition

After the competition, he learned he was a terrible slam poet.

He thought once, that he was a laureate; that’s what they’re called, right? Laureates? Or something? Anyway, he was sure he was one; that he was a street prophet, that someday, fifty years into the future, those who followed his words and wisdom would pass along his slam poetry to their children, and their children’s children. He thought he was the king of slam poets, at the very least, in the small city where he lived.

After the competition, he learned he was a terrible slam poet.

He wandered alone over to A & W, the only restaurant open at that late hour, so far down Whyte Avenue. It was quiet and dead and he ordered a root beer float from the teenage girl at the counter, whilst staring at his shoes with downcast eyes and a childish pout. His poem, “A Wrench in the Rotten Works,” it was called, was scrunched up in the zipper pocket of his Gortex.

“Root beer float?” the girl called. She must have been no longer than sixteen, with thick, lengthy, arrow-straight raven black hair tied back into a ropy ponytail and a dark complexion, looking almost sinister under the sallow lights, their shades dotted with black flies and mosquitoes.

“Thanks,” he said.

“I seen you before,” she said.

“I doubt it,” he shrugged.

“Well you look like someone I seen before,” she said, shrugging. “Are you staying here to eat that?”

“I guess.”

She whipped off her foam visor, which left a distinct, ring of flattened hair surrounding her scalp, and pulled her hair out of its ponytail. It fell down like splashing water, all the way down to her waist.

“You’re here super late,” she said. “Nobody’s ever here super late.”

“So are you,” he said. “Aren’t you a little young to be working so late?”

“Do you think they’re gonna hire someone older’n me?” she asked. “Come on, man.”

He drank his float and allowed the sugar, carbonation and froth to fill his mouth, fizz and foam on his tongue. “I guess you’re right,” he said. “I’d work here though… there’s nothing else for me to do.”

“What do you do normally?”

“I used to write poetry. I gave it up.”

“I like poetry,” she said. “Why’d you give it up?”

“‘Cause I’m not good at it. I didn’t see the point.”

“There’s a point to everything.”

“That’s not true. You’re just saying that because you’re young. But you’ll learn… you’ll learn.”

She sat with him for a long time, mostly in un-awkward silence.

“I still can’t figure out how I know you,” she said. “But I know I know you.”

“I got booed off stage tonight,” he said. And he began to cry.

“I’ve never seen a grown man cry bef– hey!”

“What?”

“Do you do like, rapping and stuff? On the street?”

“Sometimes.”

Ohhhhh!” she cried. “That’s how I know you!”

“I’m sure that’s h-how a lotta people k-know me.”

“Burn/burn/nothin’ else to earn/life adjourned/lessons learned/you’re sixteen ’til you’re overturned,” she said.

He gazed at her.

“You are a poet. Everyone else is a fucking idiot.”

He could almost see angel wings emerging from her back like a cat waking from a nap as she said this. He looked out the window and all he could see was street lamps and blue. He took the poem from his pocket and read it to her.

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