Thursday, November 19, 2009

Ode to Joy

I’m reading, and loving, Arianne Cohen’s The Tall Book. According to Cohen, “talls” react to their height in one of two ways. They wilt under all the attention their height garners them, holding up the wall at parties, slouching their way through life, or they develop the large personalities people expect to accompany their size.

Cohen, naturally shy and bookish, forces herself to become larger-than-life. Even though I’m not a super tall, 6’3” is in the ninety-eight percentile of height. I empathized with Cohen.

So let’s consider Cleopatra. All 5’1” of her.

When I’m out and about with Cleo, a line from Ani Difranco's “Evolve” always runs through my head:

I walk in stride with people / much taller than me.
Partly it’s the boots / but mostly it’s my chi.
Cleo keeps up. She also fills a room naturally, in a way I never could. She gets toe-to-toe with strangers. She moves through life without fear, using her cute-as-a-button face and petite frame to excuse behavior which would come across as pushy and aggressive in someone my size. I love that.

“Oh, I get it,” a crackhead who wanted money for watching Cleo’s car outside a club one night drawled, “She’s the one in charge.”

“Absolutely,” I told him.

The whole petite, cutesy, childish thing works for Cleo, but it’s also only one facet of her. People who only see that will never know the woman she is, what it feels like to drown in those huge, dark eyes.

I can’t do an “Ode to Joy” (that’s what I had in mind, an Ode to Cleopatra) because I’m not Leonard Cohen. Really, I want to have written “A Thousand Kisses Deep” before he did. Parts of it, anyway.

Cohen fills an entire mead notebook for one song, a whittling process with which I’m not unfamiliar. Although Ming basically dictated herself to me, I’ve written thousands of pages for Scratch the Dead Places, what will eventually be a three to five hundred page novel. Most first drafts of my short stories are two or three times longer than the finished product. Keeping that in mind for my Ode, I just wrote free-form, pages and pages as they came to me, knowing I would burn most of them later to find the salvageable truths.

You know the one about a hundred monkeys typing on a hundred keyboards for a hundred years (or maybe it’s a thousand monkeys for a thousand years), how one of them would produce the complete works of Shakespeare? I felt like one of those monkeys.

I’m no poet. Still, even though I can’t put it on the page, poetry healed my heart. I never would have guessed.


  1. Hullo AJC,

    Sounds like the man's 'Back on boogie street' once more.