Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Otherworldy Spirit at Pizza and Poetry: A Monkey Man Moment

My ten regular readers will remember that I often write about an eccentric but gifted poet named The Monkey Man. It's a long story, how we met the Monkey Man and his cast of puppets, but we're glad we did.

Once a month the Monkey Man hosts a Pizza and Poetry night at Slice of New York Pizza, 3rd and Market, Camden, NJ. My daughter The Heir and I try to go every month.

I fear the Monkey Man's group may outgrow Slice of New York Pizza, because on Tuesday night we filled every seat. It's not a big place, but it's big enough -- we're just getting more and more folks all the time. Our collective Walt Whitman "barbaric yawp" rattled the walls of the place and caused the dear old dead poet to smile in his nearby grave.

The theme of Tuesday night's P&P was death.

Well, gosh, what else do poets write about but love and death? Okay, okay, nature. I'll give you that. But death's a biggie.

The Heir and I each took a seat at one of the tables. A well-dressed black man sat down next to The Heir. I couldn't estimate the man's age, but he might be in my ballpark, maybe a bit younger. (More and more people are younger than me all the time.)

Across the table from The Heir and me sat a couple who would not stop talking to us long enough for me to share even a polite "hello, I'm Anne" with the African American gentleman. But then the poetry commenced. After a few of the regulars had shared their latest, the gentleman stood and read a very moving poem about his late grandmother and how there was a ring on the coffee table from her pie plate that was once filled with delicious lemon meringue pie.

After the gentleman read, the Monkey Man announced the awaited pizza break. The Heir dashed off to get her slices, giving me a chance to introduce myself to the gentleman.

I praised his poem, and I told him of an incident that happened in my house that week.

My daughter The Spare is studying chemistry in 8th grade. My late father (who now fights pirates with Peter Pan) was a chemistry teacher. Back in the 1960s, I told the gentleman, my dad did chemistry classes on closed circuit t.v. that could be shown in high schools scattered across our Appalachian county. A few of Dad's episodes survived on an old VHS that Dad gave me before he went off with Peter Pan. The Spare wanted to take the VHS to school to show bits of grainy footage of Dad blowing up everything in sight.

I was willing to part with the precious VHS, but I suggested that The Spare and I should pick one particularly vivid explosion to show her class. And there, on the footage, stood my precious dad in the prime of life, mixing up chemicals in a mortar and pestle that now sits in my kitchen.

Of course the sight of that old tool of Dad's, now mine (and -- gulp -- used to grind spices!) made me weep. But then it comforted me to realize that an important piece of Dad's equipment will forever be with my family.

So, I told all of this to the African American gentleman, and he started writing things down. He apologized for being rude and then said, "You are just radiating so much energy on this that I'm being inspired."

By the time we had finished eating pizza, the gentleman -- who had never been to Pizza and Poetry before -- had written a moving poem about Daddy the Chemistry Teacher and his mortar and pestle, now used to grind cinnamon. Like, I mean the dude wrote a fabulous poem in less than 15 minutes. He impressed the hell out of everyone and caused me to weep again.

This was, of course, powerful magic at work. If you don't believe in magic, what are you doing on my site? Go toddle off to Hanna Montana dot com or some such place.

The gentleman had extremely scratchy handwriting and resisted copying the Daddy poem out in more legible form because he said he wanted to work on it some more. So I gave him my email and begged him to send me the final draft when he finished it. At the end of the evening we shook hands and went our separate ways. I do not remember his name.

Driving home, I told The Heir that I wasn't sure this gentleman was even a mortal. You never can be sure about the celestial status of anyone who hangs around the Monkey Man. So, if I never see or hear from this extraordinary African American poet again, I will assume he was a messenger from the Great God Chonganda, sent to ease my sorrow about losing my dad to Peter Pan.

If that dude is mortal, I wish him a long life, good health, and that his pen never runs out of ink. Because I don't think I've ever witnessed greater magic from an inkpen in my life.

To date I have not heard from him.


buddydon said...

verr nice. i wish i coulda bin thar.

Anne Johnson said...

me 2, you'd fit right in.

yellowdoggranny said...

oh I feel terrible because I don't know a monkey man...what a lovely lovely story...
you made me weep...