At nine Steve looks at me and says we may as well begin
and as I was the only one so far signed up to read that night
make my way to the gloomy stage between rows of empty
chairs and empty tables to a lone microphone that haunts
a threadbare carpet.
You start, I’ll round up a few more people. Steve disappears
downstairs to an indistinct moan of voices, clink of glasses,
scraping of chairs and the vague iambic rhythm from the pool
table. I read to Mark (who sits behind the mixer desk), the empty
room and the melancholic dust.
I reach the third stanza of my poem SHADOWS and the line
“Bodies howl and spit in the weightless night” when Mark puts
two fingers across his lips. He was fucking off for a quick smoke.
I finish reading my poem. There is no applause. Lights flicker
from the room’s poltergeist
and I sit at an empty table. Minutes later Mark comes through
the fire escape; then Steve, a bunch of students with skinny jeans,
poets armed with slim notebooks and lever arch files drift up
wooden stairs. Steve runs to the stage, takes the mic and says
the second reader of the night is...