There’s always a jolt of panic before a reading. I’ve done this hundreds of times in different venues, in front of different faces. It never fails that moments before I even set foot inside the venue, I become a lyric from an Eminem song. A blast of anxiety rushes through my head the moment my name is read off the list, and I’m introduced. I approach the podium/mic stand with caution, folder in hand with a collection of writings and musings, blog print outs and random things scrawled out on anything from emergency room brochures to napkins—my greatest hits, as I sometimes jokingly call them. My body moves along with my words, something that could be mistaken for nerves and jitters. But without the dance, the story would fall flat and it’s message lost in anxiety of my voice.
Tonight wasn’t any different, outside the ceremonial upchucking. The only difference that, for the first time in all my history in poetry readings, I brought someone into the group. And in a sea of strangers—with the exception of Richard Sanchez and Julieta Corpus—I had someone in the crowd that was a familiar face.
Nearly a decade ago, I was a staple in the poets/writers community. I traveled from venue to venue reading my words. And it got easier with time. I carried the nerves with me, but I managed them better. However, something in my life happened and I just dropped out. I declined requests and invitations and friends became strangers. When I started working at [redacted], I attended one poetry reading and had a falling out with the Alpha male poet—a pompous poser who calls himself a mariachi (and that’s all I’ll talk about on the subject)—and I vanished from the scene until Amado returned to host his Nueva Onda readings. And we had a good run until he vanished on us. I can’t say I blame him, though. Sometimes life gets in the way.
Tonight, at the Love & Chocolate reading, I thought about my good friend Amado as I watched Julieta Corpus introduce a somewhat nervous Carol Noe because that was me what feels like a life time ago. I still remember the night that I entered the dimly light Nueva Onda Poets Cafe off McColl and sat down watching the musicians play while the owner, a friend of my then-creative writing professor, Rene Saldana Jr., crouched down beside me and asked if I wanted to read. And after much reluctance, I agreed to place my name on the list. He assured me that it was only if I wanted to. No pressure. And, of course, the man lied through his teeth because it wasn’t but ten minutes later that I sat on the stage peering down at the audience and reading in front of a crowd for the first time.
When the assistant director asked me if I knew the young lady who played guitar last time, I shook my head. While I knew who he was talking about, I hadn’t a clue what her name was or how to contact her and Googling “Female guitarist who wears a hat” was getting me nowhere. And while I conceded to defeat that I’d never find her, I remembered that I met a guitarist a month prior. So I shot Carol a quick text asking if she would be interested in performing and she liked the idea enough to agree.
As she began the opening cords of Taylor Swift’s “Everything Has Changed,” I couldn’t hide my smile. Her voice coming out of the PA filling the meeting room and spilling out through the open door into the rest of the building, she attracted a crowd at the onlookers standing outside the twin doors. “She’s really cute,” my director said. “She’s good.”
Carol, who moments ago said she’d keel over dead and play as a zombie, was killing it at her first appearance at one of the events. And while I’ve never seen her play before, I knew to expect nothing less than a stellar performance. And as Julieta Corpus introduced me for the first time in a long time, I took a breath and spilled the lines. I might have missed up on the poem, but I won the audience with my best-of-piece, “Note to my Twelve-Year-Old Self.”
And after the nerves have resided the only thing I can think of is, when do we get to do this again?