Performing for Ghosts

There’s a little park tucked away on Main Street in Wilburton

Passing it at 6:30 may as well have been midnight as most of the shops had already closed for the day

I felt the need to stop in, explore, see what there was to see and so I did, slipping through the gates as if there was something to hide.

Little did I know that this had the potential to be something like a secret garden

Beneath an arch of trees was a stage and out of curiosity I got up on top of it, saw what it looked like from that perch

And from that stage I had a flash to the countless stages I’ve been on and I was overcome  by something. It had been too long.

I started one of my favorite pieces, a stolen verse from the poet Chancellor Bennett

“No weapon formed against me will prosper. My sword looks just like Michael’s”

With no one in the audience save for the plaques on every bench, memorials to someone who had come before, I went through the poem as if I was curating another Friday night set

Performing to open the space, for others to feel okay opening up their lives to strangers

When the piece finished I reached into my pocket as if by impulse, to grab my phone

My notes app, a trove of finished and unfinished work, about half of which I’m happy with, holds everything I’ve ever written

From long odes working through the loss of people I’ve held close to short bursts of creativity, springing forth from dimly lit corners of open mics as I scrambled to have something to perform

I did another piece for the ghosts of those that had come before

And all the while I wondered why I did it. Why I do any of this.

I am a poet because there are some stories I want to tell but can’t without first donning a performer’s mask

There are things I’d rather not deal with as myself but that character, that Jeff that stands on stage finally has the courage to face

I perform because there’s something powerful in that secret poetic language that amplifies the stories, that lets a raw nerve become a collective experience, that reminds me that I don’t do this life alone

I get on stage because sometimes I see something beautiful in this world and it would be a shame if I kept it to myself

And so tonight I shared my soul with the ghosts that are remembered in that small park off Main Street

I may never hear their stories, I may never know what lies beyond “Given in memory of.”

But as of tonight they know mine.

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