Afterwards

One night a man in a long coat exposed himself to me on the tram. When it happened I couldn’t believe it. I was stunned, as you typically are stunned when something like this occurs. It was on the way home from Barb’s poetry reading and I was looking at the beautiful little book she put into my hands when I said goodbye to her because it was late and I had classes the next day. The book was a book of her poems called St. Kilda Dreaming, and the reading was a kind of launch for it, and all the girls were there and we were all thrilled. Well, I was. To be published after what she’d been through, well, it was just inspiring. And I told her that. I said she was my hero and she said not to say that: you have to be your own hero. And I agreed with that – it was impossible to argue – but I’d never felt as proud of anyone as I did right then, and I told Barb that, and the poems are fantastic. They’re great. “You’re a poet!” I said repeatedly. I knew she was years ago, but the whole world knows now. I told her that too.

And she kissed me and put the book in my hands. I felt giddy with her success, and the red wine too, I guess, and as I sat on the tram with the night rolling past I opened the book and there was an inscription, addressed to me. It read: ‘To Kit, Every poem is like a prayer of love to a pagan idol. You are my goddess.’ My heart seemed to flutter and stop and beat harder, all at once. I re-read the inscription and it still said the same thing: a prayer of love … her goddess. It was a short inscription but it said so much, which is what poets do, I suppose. But it asked more questions than it answered. If you should concentrate on becoming your own hero, which seemed to mean something like be good to yourself, be as good as you can be and love yourself first, before you love other people, then why was she telling me that she loved me? She was telling me that she loved me, wasn’t she? Of course she was. She was saying that I inspired her, just as she had told me that I shouldn’t say she inspired me. But the difference was love – inspiration from love is not the same thing as being inspired by somebody’s example. It takes a poet to show you the difference. It takes a poet to know that there is a difference.

I loved her too. Always had. Right from the very beginning. She was so talented and she wouldn’t always say a lot, when the rest of us were shooting our mouths off about politics and theories, but when she did say something it was always thoughtful and interesting and she spoke so gently but there was a fire in her. In her voice and in her soul. The others recognised her power and they took up most of her time with various projects and put her on so many committees and the two of us so rarely got to speak about anything, just the two of us, that I wondered if she liked me or even really noticed me. I noticed when Barb wasn’t there and I always knew who she was talking to and what they were planning.

Writing pamphlets and designing posters are important but they aren’t the same as poetry and the first poems she showed me were so very good that it made me feel sick and I didn’t want to speak. Maybe I was the first person who spotted her talent. Maybe I was the first person who believed in her – or maybe she believed in herself first, because she was in love: in love with me! I was so happy. I closed the book and looked up and there was a man looking right at me, in the seat opposite, and he was masturbating, as if I wanted to see something like that, as if it was a performance for me. The whole thing, the shock of it, the face and body, so close and real and revolting, is still with me, and I try to think of the poems and the lovely, indescribably tender inscription, and all I can think of is that man doing that, and it’s still in my head.

I can’t wait to see Barb again.

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Published in: on February 17, 2014 at 7:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

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