My Wednesday reading at Valanni's Restaurant was scheduled to begin at 10.00pm so I drove to Jenkintown and took the train into center city. I arrived twenty minutes early and, as I mounted the steps to the restaurant, a woman hollered my name and I spun around to see her approach.
"Are you Damian?" she asked.
I nodded my affirmation.
"Thought I recognized you from the photo on the festival's site." She held out her hand and shook mine enthusiastically.
Janet is a poet--an exceptional one it transpires because we exchanged books (as authors are wont to do in these circumstances) and I read her work on the train journey home. Quite frankly, I was transported to another world, a world of magnificent femininity and promise.
Here's a couple of excerpts from A Woman Alone which she told me was inspired by a trip to Greece.
a woman alone
is her own possession;
she is a street
dark with devout faces;
she is her own high priest
swinging the incense
of her own scent;
a woman alone
is the flame;
she is the wax that burns
a woman alone is time
she is a swell
from its own breaker;
a woman alone
on the crest,
her own wave
a woman alone
is her own body
she is the cold embrace
of sea and her own
that swims in it;
she is the heat
of the sun
and the smooth
hot rocks that contain her,
a woman alone......
Should you wish to find out how to acquire Janet's work, just email her at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'm sure she'll be delighted to help you.
Janet and I sat at a table--her with a soda water and me with a diet coke, which we though were on the house because no-one gave us a bill...initially--and slipped into easy camaradie, the two of us jabbering ten to a dozen as if we'd known each other for years. I so enjoy it when I meet people with whom I feel immediately comfortable. So engrossed did we become, we scarcely noticed how quickly the place filled up, and next thing the manager approached and introduced us to our festival host, John Lessard. Soon there was a band of gregarious writers milling about the narrow room, including Jim Gladstone whom I'd also never met. I loved this opportunity to mingle with fellow writers, an opportunity which many city writers enjoy regularly, and even indulged the thought that it would be wonderful to live in Philly because of it.
The event began late and, as Janet had to leave early due to an early morning meeting, she, aided by a green keychain light due to a snafu concerning adequate light for the authors to read their work, was first up. I was to swiftly follow second owing to the fact I had to catch the last train home or I'd have been stranded until five o'clock the following morning. Despite a healthy din from some diners also in attendance, I was immediately struck by Janet's words and only regretted her reading was so short. In a flash, she was gone and the DJ recommenced playing, his performance accompanied by a partner who kept fiddling with some peculiar gadget that caused images flashed against an opposite wall to move and contort in all sorts of odd ways.
Ten minutes later, it was clear the DJ was on a roll and would brook no interruption from the plebian authors. Consulting my watch, I saw it was 11:25 and I had about half an hour to read my excerpt and bolt to the train station about ten minutes away. The chap was in full view but no amount of glaring and finger drumming on the table would guilt him to relinquish the floor. Simply put, we were plebs. Two minutes later, a jag of pure panic compelled me to mutiny and I went up to the restaurant manager, seized his arm, explained my dilemma, and the reading commenced. Still very noisy, I read my piece and left, very disappointed not to be able to stay and hear the others read from their work.
Hurtling along 13th street, I spied a tall, well built African American lady shouting something indiscernible as she started along the next block. As I drew closer, I saw she was wearing high cork-heeled shoes and a lightweight, dangerously short black dress that displayed the nether regions of her very full bottom. It appeared as if she wasn't wearing knickers, and the sleeves of her dress had long, silky fringes which swayed back and forth as she raised and moved her arms in the balmy October evening air.
I crossed the street as she called aloud like a Victorian street vendor, "Some sweet black ass here."
Given it was 13th and Chestnut, I was positive I'd misheard, until I saw other pedestrians turn their heads to look back at her. Chuckles emanated from a posse of young men and women on the other side of the street. Despite a need to maintain momentum, my feet began to slow.
"Hi Sugar," she said, as I swung out to pass her by.
Her accent was Southern and, given the recent catastrophe down there, it flashed in my mind that she might be a New Orleans ex-pat adrift in the wrong end of town. Certain her pickings would be slim, I wondered if I should redirect, though had no idea exactly where to redirect her.
"Good evening," I said,instead.
"Aaw Sugar, don' be in such a hurry," she called after me. "Nobody got time. Don' you want some o' this sweet black ass?"
I focused on the pink neon guitar at the Hard Rock Cafe on the corner of Market St. and began to increase speed again. But the incongruity of location and this woman's mission proved far too intriguing and, like a hick, I turned my head to stare and marvel at how dextrously she spun around on those high-arched cork heels at the street corner and began to retrace her beat, her call and fringes rising above the low din of the late evening traffic.
[technorati: 215Festival, Janet Mason, Philadelphia, Jim Gladstone]