Ted Jonathan

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The Message

Had I known it would cost 5 times more
for me to get to the Long Island library
to do the poetry reading than what I’d make
from that night’s sale of 3 copies of my book
I’d have done it anyway. Libraries are holy.
The neighborhood I grew up in didn’t have
one. What kind of neighborhood doesn’t have
a library? You tell me. What kind of a library
has a nearly non-existent poetry section? Most
all of them nowadays. The red light flashes
on my answering machine. I press play…

Muted message: male voice, my reading,
please call… Alright! No one’s calling
just to say hi you suck. Who knows?
A patron of the arts? A top publisher?
A fan offering pure cocaine? More likely,
the caller was a host of a reading who’d ask
me to feature. Maybe an editor requesting
poems for their journal. I’d return this gift
call after coffee, tomorrow morning.

Despite the message being muted, his phone
number was strangely clear. I dialed. He said
he’d seen in a local newspaper, that I was a poet
who’d read at a library, not too far from his
bookshop. “Who am I talking to?” I asked.
“Lou,” he said, rolling into how he’d acquired
a fine poetry collection, but was having no luck
stirring up interest, so last night he called me
to ask if I wanted to buy it. Dejected, I said,
“No. Most public libraries have less than one
shelf of poetry. What we have has no value.”

for William Packard

The nightly ritual (washing down valium with
Heineken), while intently watching The Arsenio
Hall Show (muted) no longer knocked me out.
Turned to the wall for what crawled out my soul . . .

Knew I’d rather be dead, Artwork by Gene McCormick
than spend another day at the job.

Stopped showing up.

Took up poetry.

The teacher was a young woman. Everyone
seemed to know one another. They went around
The room for some kind of feelings check. No
talk of poetry. Broke into a cold sweat. Group
therapy? My turn, I passed. Finished the fight
I had with a guy coming in on the subway
when the teacher announced the end of class and
the one book required. Said it was by a colleague.   
The title included the word tractus. On my way
out, I asked, “Will we be learning poetic devices?”
She replied, “You can do that on your own.”
“Is that how you learned?” I asked. And didn’t
wait for an answer.

I rode the unbridled guitar bursts of grunge king
Neil Young and wrote lyrics that sang. Another,
a la Randy Newman, jabbing needles into that what
needs needling. Cut costs like the dry cleaners and
cable. Dropped insurance. Read Coleridge and Buk.
Got a part-time job doing quality control at a Pez
factory. And wrote a song like no one but me. 

Tried again.

In this man, even a half-wit could tell they sat
before a monumental teacher. Not because he had
the imposing stature of one who way back might’ve
played fullback or because of his gray beard
and great head of dark unkempt hair, but because
of his glaring vast knowledge and roaring laughter
of wakefulness. There was a cop, a supermodel,
and an astrophysicist in the class. A woman seated
up front peppered him with daddy, daddy please notice
me questions. He threw her out. It warmed my heart.
Here was my chance to get something right.

Ted Jonathan is a poet and short story writer. Born and raised in the Bronx, he now lives in New Jersey. His work has appeared in many magazines. Translations of his poetry have appeared in Russian magazines. His first collection Spiked Libido was published by Neukeia Press. Bones & Jokes, a full-length collection of poems and short stories, was published by NYQ Books (2009). His forthcoming poetry collection Run will also be published by NYQ Books.