He stood with his arm on the mic stand, elbow jutting out, as if it might prop him up like a crutch. He clutched the microphone in his other hand, head bowed to meet it. Hunched and bunched. Words swam in his mind but not the ones he’d sat up, late nights and early mornings, scribbling, scrawling in endless notebooks. Rhymes taunted him. Hunched and bunched. Clutch and crutch. He couldn’t see them out there in the darkness but he could hear patience running thin, the scrape of chair legs, glasses on tables, voices that began in whispers growing in volume. He stood framed and still in the spotlight. Hiding in plain sight. Light and sight. Clutch and crutch. Hunched and bunched. Words and rhymes, just not the right ones.
Come on, man. Give up the stage, buddy, let someone else speak. We wanna hear some verse.
The restlessness in the room has a shape now, an edge. It’s been given voice and all he can hear is chatter and disappointment and a room full of wasted Friday nights. There’s a hand on his arm and the compere is leaning into his ear, urging him to speak or sit down. He’s seen this before and there’s a note of understanding but the grip on his arm is getting tighter and he can feel a distinct tug away from the microphone. Some people just can’t do it up here. It’s all in their head and all on the page but not here, not here where there’s nowhere to hide.
He closes his eyes. Whatever he wrote in all those dripping minutes and sweeping hours has gone. Now or never. He speaks.
Life writes faster than I can write:
If I really – really – committed and held myself to the words,
A thousand words, every day,
Two thousand, three thousand, four,
I’d be too slow and too far behind the curve, the swerve.
Even if I lost some of my reflexive reserve I just don’t have that kind of verve
And maybe I don’t have the nerve.
Maybe I’m not ready to bleed.
This ain’t no magic trick, there’s nothing up my sleeve,
No facade or screen or Wizard of Oz behind the scenes and
No filter between you and me: you ready to hear my dreams?
My brain and guts and heart and all the viscera in between?
‘Cos you might have met me tonight, or any night, any day
And all that stuff we learn to protect ourselves with would have been in the way,
All those masks, those crutches that keep me from your clutches, that suit of armour I lug around,
Each step heavier than the last as it drags me down.
Hunched and bunched and scrunched and out to lunched.
And all the stuff would have been in the way and would have done its job.
Its fobbing off job: it would have said I’m okay.
But I’m not okay.
Not tonight, or any night, any day.
I learned too much of that stuff to protect myself with and it gets in the way.
I got to learn to bleed.
I got to learn to write faster than life.
‘Cos lately life’s been writing faster than I can write and faster than I can stand to live.
Later, when they buy him a drink, they tell him there was applause. Later, when he puts that armour back on, it feels a little different. A little lighter.