I really never know what to expect when I plan an MQA party; I simply do what needs to be done and just wait-and-see.
Planning Friday’s soirée, in celebration of Walt Whitman’s 194th birthday, required more from me than parties past; stringing 120 feet of lights to eight-foot bamboo stakes, with only a hammer as my assistant, hours before 50 guests arrived, was far from easy. At one point, I became terribly frustrated with a spot of hard ground that would not accept a stake deeper than 4 inches. I knelt to the ground in exhaustion and asked myself the question that is maybe the most human, honest and self-reflecting one of all time: “Why am I doing this?”
Kneeling in the 90 degree heat, my head buried in my hands, the thirsty grass digging a zig-zag pattern on my dehydrated knees, I let myself be a baby for five solid minutes. My thoughts drifted to my friends, 30 of whom agreed to come that evening, the friends who show up when I have sea captains talk in my living room about pollution and when I have parties for dead poets.
I got up, picked the grass off my knees and finished stringing the lights. Later, when my guests complimented my yard, saying sweet things like it was enchanting, I smiled proudly, rubbing the sore part of my right hand that was bruised from the hammer.
Rocky Wilson is a poet. He is well-known in these parts for talking to people via his stuffed puppet, Bongo. He can be seen having tea parties with Bongo and his other stuffed animals in the park across the street from his house, a house he bought in Camden from a vagabond priest for $1 over 30 years ago. Rocky has that attribute that my generation rarely has: he is convincing, authentic in his unconventional ways.
The first time I met Rocky he had an Emily Dickinson book and three of his puppets with him. Those four, plus Walt Whitman and Camden’s internationally renowned haiku poet, Nick Virgilio, appear to be Rocky’s constant heros. I had never seen him read any of his or Walt’s poetry before, but the many RSVP emails from his fans and friends, filled with gracious enthusiasm, made me eager to see him deliver.
The crowd gathered with their chairs and blankets on the well-lit lawn, drinks and food in hand, all facing Rocky. A chorus of birds sang in the woods behind him. I sat down on a blanket, the heat and frustration melting away from me as he began. Rocky was incredible. He was alive, robust, in his reading. His own poems, with which he began, and Walt’s, with which he ended, were beautiful. His depth and sincerity brought the words to life, leaving us, the listeners, with a feeling of perfect duality, placid and playful.
Life, the seasons, the frustrations and the most human of questions all seemed free from expectation that night. We all drank and ate and talked and laughed until 2 a.m., all the while the birds singing behind us.
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