And then there’s that thing you do where you swing by a rope from a tree and magically disappear without announcing if you will reappear or not, and everyone left standing asks, “Where’s Ben?”, some claiming there’s nobody by that name in our databases, then suddenly you’re on display in a box in a strange room filled with solemn organs and everyone is bringing you flowers.
So we’re left wandering around from place to place thinking if a glass is raised that somehow you’ll rise up through the floor or start laughing at us from behind a curtain. Of course, this never happens but we find ourselves on tenterhooks, thinking we’ve caught a glimpse of you.. lucidly there.. hazily not here.…
Michele Herman is a longtime teacher in The Writers Studio’s online program, a columnist for The Villager (for which she won the best column prize from the New York Press Association), and a translator of the work of Belgian singer/songwriter/actor/director Jacques Brel. Her first poetry chapbook, Victory Boulevard, was published this past February by Finishing Line Press and she is, as she puts it, a proud survivor of the Tupelo Press 30/30 poetry challenge.
In this episode of Cover to Cover with . . ., Editor-in-Chief Jordan Blum speaks with Herman about the origin and inspirations behind Victory Boulevard, the joys of teaching creative writing workshops online, and much more!
1. catch his eyes gleaming in evening shine behind trees still dripping raindrops / Miami puddles and saturation so you wear flip-flops everywhere / except by ‘wear’ you mean that you put them in your rucksack wander barefoot / by now, you have learned / by now, you know that your body serves as a gathering place for Chaos and her followers / a stomping ground for displaced hyperventilations / you know to let your eyes slip from contact / you know your presence is a beacon /
but it isn’t what you expect / it isn’t the heavy breaths and sweat dripping down his forehead / it’s some gentleness locked away in folds of skin towering six feet and some odd inches / it’s sad brown eyes and tongue twisters for words /
he reaches for you / but not you, your bare feet, muddied and peppered with tiny cuts / he gives up trying to form the words / first, he outlines your toes with his finger / then envelops them with his broad hands / your feet like smooth pebbles he is waiting to skip / he kneels, raising your feet to his core /
you aren’t afraid / you’re never afraid anymore / but you start to feel the tendrils of frustration against your neck / this stranger is anchoring you as you inch further and further into screaming Red Road traffic / he pantomimes each step along with you / some need of his silencing the cars that speed past /
Miami never stops for pedestrians / so eventually you weave between cars / spaces too small for his hulking frame to follow /
I wasn’t ready for Regina Spektor. Her first song I heard was “Summer in the City,” a deep-cut my first girlfriend played in her Ford Windstar. One month later she’d pack the same van for first year at Gonzaga and a few weeks after I’d leave for a new life at the University of Oregon. We avoided talking about the eight hours of distance. We wouldn’t own cars. We didn’t know much about college, but told each other the one-and-a-half-year relationship would last—we were each other’s best friend and first sex.
Our worries masqueraded as fights about the subtext of Harry Potter, the taste of olives and the verses of a Russian anti-folk musician who I didn’t know existed until then. I strained to listen to the slow, classical piano behind lyrics about castration and cocaine and orgasms.
“Who is this?” I asked. “How did you hear about her?”
“You don’t like her,” she said. She kept looking at the freeway. I could’ve written the rest.
“I just didn’t know you liked her,” I said. I pictured Regina as my girlfriend’s secret partner who whispered and giggled about me while wearing black cocktail dresses and denim jackets stolen from a thrift store so hipster it’d already gone out of business.…