Thelma walked solemnly up the stone steps leading to the grey, vine covered building that looked like a castle. Inside, people swarmed about, chatting, filling glasses of wine for each other. Thelma stopped a moment, until she spotted Joanna deep in conversation with a man who reminded her of Humpty Dumpty. Hell, she said to herself, I do know poetry after all. Joanna turned and waved, excusing herself from the fat man.
“Oh, mother, I’m so glad you came. I know this isn’t your sort of thing, but I’m very glad you’re here.” Joanna took her mother by the arm and planted her in a seat right at the front. Too bad, Thelma thought, I can’t take a snooze without everybody noticing.
Soon everyone was seated, the readers in a semi-circle in front of the small audience. Joanna sat next to the fat man, then there was a stern looking woman of fifty, and a pink looking young man. Thelma glanced down at her black shoes, her best, and suddenly felt that she needed more Jack Daniel’s, preferably through a straw.
“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for coming to this extraordinary event. We have here two eminent practitioners of the poetic art, Mark Pincus and Sandra Godzinski, and two wonderful critics of their work, Joanna Ryan and Larry Orgel. Mark and Sandra will read from their work, and Joanna and Larry will also read, then comment.”
The fat man began to read, in a deep, rumbling voice, a voice that Thelma associated with high-toned radio programs.
“The wake of the sea, in its blue wash, oh god, in its blue waves of –“
Thelma looked down at her shoe. Shit – there was a piece of scotch tape where the buckle had broken. She reached down to pull off the tape, very genteelly, she thought, when her eyes rose to that of the stern looking woman. They were fixed on her. Thelma frowned, hoping her deep interest in the poetry would register in her brow.
“The deep anguish of my soul, when that sea washed over me–” How did Aegean Queen do in the fifth, she wondered. Aegean Queen was out of Royal Dynasty, that should be good for something, Rafael Pedroza was up – she had dreamt that one, dreamt that she would win.
“Royal, imperial was that moment, there on the shore–” Royal Donna, oh goddamn it, that’s the one, Thelma thought. It’ll be Royal Donna for sure. Why didn’t I bet on her?
The reading went on. The fat man sat down, beads of perspiration on his face. He wiped himself with a big white handkerchief. The pink young man stood up. Thelma must have drifted off.
“’Love’s pinnace,’” he pronounced it ‘penis,’ “will keep our bark afloat – now that line has tremendous significance as far as the sexual symbolization of the poem.”
Did I hear “penis?” Thelma wondered with a start. She looked directly into the eyes of the fat poet, who was looking at her. He smiled and unbuttoned the lowest button on his bulging grey vest.
What would happen if I started yelling “penis, penis, penis?” Thelma wondered. He smiled at her again. He could read her mind! He was a poet, and he could read her mind.
Finally it was Joanna’s turn. She stood up and started speaking, in that low, wistful voice of hers. What a beautiful girl, Thelma thought, as she looked at the solemn blonde, long hair tied in a velvet ribbon and hanging down her back, in her austere little T-shirt and denim skirt. But she was afraid to listen. It had always been that way. Her daughter was so lovely to her, but so alien, that she could never bear to listen to her even when she was the fairy princess in the school play or the lead singer in the high school chorus. She was the lead in everything, Thelma mused, and every lead meant loss.
Joanna held her arm as they walked out through the front hall. “I’m so glad you came, mother. Did you enjoy it at all?”
“It was fine, honey, just fine.” Thelma said and patted her arm. “I don’t know how you do it, really.”
“Do what you do, I mean, say all those things. You know so much.”
As Joanna helped Thelma into the Plymouth, she said, “Listen, mother, I’ve been trying to tell you–“
“I’ve been trying to tell you about Clive. We’re engaged. I hope you won’t be upset, you know, that I didn’t tell you before.”
Thelma sat uncertainly at the steering wheel. “Before when?”
Tune in tomorrow for Part 3