I Stayed Awake All Night – Steve Passey
February 3, 2023
In the cool, cool, cool of the morning, I walked home alone.
Es el mismo error vale la pena la espera.
It was the first thing Anna-Maria ever said to me, in class. I remember it. Since then, I carried a torch.
In the fall now, out of school and working in insurance, I did not write. I watched documentaries and sent voice messages in my not-very-good Spanish to mi amiga.
Come on over, she told me, I am having a few literary people over tonight.
I went. I could not find Anna-Maria at first. I was the only guy there; the rest were women and many of them older than Anna-Maria and I. I watched one woman speak while the others nodded. She’d received a grant to start a literary magazine. She told them, that in spite of what she’d said on the grant application, that she was steadfast: She would not publish men. She had the grant money now, she said, let ‘em come and take it back. That’s how the game is played.
To hell with men, she toasted to the others. They’ve had their turn.
Then they all realized that I heard them.
Do you read Plath, I asked?
They said yes. One said that Plath was her religion.
She could write a little I said, but only a little, and could you imagine what living with that crazy woman would have been like?
They excused themselves from my presence and dissipated throughout the apartment. I could not find Maria. I assumed she was in the bathroom.
The oldest woman there came to me. Her silver hair was shaved on one side and she was wearing those faux-cat’s eye glasses like nuns wore in those old class photographs of the Catholic education system when the nuns in those glasses presided, without smiles, over the grim-faced children they’d beaten the shit out of every day for a school year.
The host has asked me to ask you to leave, she said, you don’t belong here.
You’re not my audience, I asked? Aright, aright.
I went out on the door and sat on the stoop. Maria joined me in a few minutes. She had brought two beers.
Plath again, she said.
Half the time it works half the time, I said. It would work every time but there isn’t always that unresurrected celibate in the room to pose for the picture the others want to see.
I was in the bathroom, she said. If I wasn’t I would have intervened.
How so, I asked?
I would have said that one day, all men will fucking hang.
We drank the beers and Maria smoked a cigarette.
We all want the same things, she said, but there is only so much to go around.
While she smoked, I told her that Michael Crummey’s Bread was proof that we do all want the same things, and how it was first published as poetry because it was very short, and at the time, no one knew what to do with fiction so short, so it was placed as poetry because anything so short and pristine must be poetry.
She said she would read it.
I asked her if they had told her exactly what I had said.
Yes, she said, exactly.
What did you say?
I laughed, she said. I thought it was hilarious.
And yet, here I sit, I said. I should have reminded them that it is Hughes, not Plath.
She laughed at that, too. You would have been murdered, she said. Justifiably.
She finished her cigarette.
You don’t belong here she said. Not with those people. Maybe with me. For sure with me. But I’ve got my daughter. You should go to L.A.
L.A.? I asked.
Better weather, she said. Work in advertising, or film.
I’ll tell you what, I said. Tomorrow let’s get up and drive somewhere. We’ll drive until I have a half a tank of gas, just enough to get back, then get something to eat and come back.
I’ve got my daughter, she said.
Bring her, I said. Right now, she’s in a room with people who all think they’re special, because their religion tells them so. You need to look out for her interests.
I’ll think about it, she said.
She stood up.
En la casa padre que, she said, before going back in, lo plantó por primera vez. Murió cuando yo era pequeño. Hubo suficiente lluvia para todo. Merece la pena esperar. De mi madre, she said, en el lugar donde crecí, mi madre tenía un jardín, y en la casa una foto de mi.
I took that as a yes. After all, we all want the same things.
After she had told me that we make the same mistake, and that it is worth the wait, she asked me at what point does a poem become prose?
I answered that I did not know.
She told me that a poem is not a thing in and of itself, rather it is a stage – in this case a pupa – the idea that spawned it is a larval stage. A poem, to become an imago, has to become a song. If it does not become song, that’s when it becomes a paragraph, or prose, or just stays a poem. A poem might have to wait, she said. A long time. There was more to this, she was sure, but she did not know what yet.
There were things I wanted to ask her about this, like what is a prayer, then? But we were in class with all of them. Still, it was all I could think about. It filled my mind in the same way a dream does when you first wake up from it and wordless, you try to hold on to it, until words come and you lose it. Nothing is a dream until you wake up, but I did not want to sleep.