Jim is a poet. Not the type of annoying pseudo-existential poet mocked in those very irksome VW commercials, but a homegrown Midwestern type who likes words and is well read. So one night he asked me to go to a poetry reading.
A poetry reading! That’s what you’d think New Yorkers do, along with hang out at independently owned coffee bars and have love affairs. That is, if you read novels written in the 1950s or have a romantic frame of mind. (Of course, you could be reading the other kind of New York novels, where all the heroines are adorable, put upon editorial assistants … Oddly enough, in both types of New York novels, the main characters rarely have roommates yet manage to live in Manhattan… But I digress.) Even though I live in New York and you would think I know better, I kind of felt that I was claiming my birthright as I went to a poetry reading in a bar on a mild May night.
The bar where the reading was being held was a one room affair, up a flight of stairs in an old building. Evidence of the room’s better days lingered in the high ceilings and the cracked moldings. The room was dark and yes, red curtains – they might even have been tattered velvet -- kept out the evening light. It was exactly the kind of decayed room that ought to host a poetry reading.
I bought myself a drink. Despite the impressive atmosphere, I was feeling grumpy. There were no seats left (I was late). I’d walked most of the way downtown, and my feet hurt. And Jim. Though I am very fond of him, he is hard work sometimes: I always have to initiate conversation, and more than not, we still end up staring at the floor half the time. More than anything, I wanted to sink into one of the booths and nurse a gin and tonic. Instead we stood at the back of the bar and waited for what I suspected was going to be a trying evening’s entertainment. Then from a sound system I heard
Here she comes walking down the street
She's got something you would love to meet
It's her heart and her heart is black
Think of ice cream sliding into a crack
My mouth twisted into a smile. I turned to my young man, and pointed at the ceiling, where I thought the speakers were located. “Do you know what this is?” I asked.
Jim shook his head.
Another opporunity for me to instruct my young man! I was getting into this experienced older woman thing. I grinned at him: “This is the Jesus and Mary Chain’s Automatic. I haven’t heard the album since about 1993.”
Jim looked at me blankly. Of course, he was about 10 when it came out. But I felt comforted and pleased and my bad mood fell away.
The poetry reading was actually great. Meghan O’Rourke was fantastic – poems about teenage girls and the moon like a tarnished spoon, and David Lehman’s poems about a yeshiva boy turned CIA agent were very funny. On the train home I thumbed through book of Lehman’s poetry while Jim read over my shoulder.
At my place Jim and I collapsed onto my bed. We lay across the mattress, our foreheads touching: “Cute little koala bear,” said Jim.
Aw. Though I hope I do not really remind him of a hairy, tubby marsupial with a bad disposition.
“Finally I get a smile out of you,” I said. I realized this was true: Jim generally seems so glum. I always feel compelled to see if I can change the expression on his face.
We started kissing and dragging our clothes off, and I slid a condom onto his lovely engorged dick. I fitted him in me. I rocked against him and pretty soon was close to orgasm. “I’m not going to come yet,” I breathed, as if announcing it might stop the wave.
“Think of baseball,” suggested Jim from under me. “That’s from a Woody Allen routine,” he added. I grimaced as I shifted against his cock.
But I really needed to hear Jim’s voice while we fucked. So I started talking: “I had a threesome on Friday,” I panted in his ear. (True!)
“I wish I had seen that.”
“Would you like to see me suck off some men?” I said in my twistiest, most cajoling voice. “Would you like to see me on all fours, sucking some guys’ cocks?”
“Lily,” he said.
“I have this fantasy,” I went on, wanting my words to make him groan. I think I needed that groan in order to come. “I’m on all fours, and I go from one dick to the next. First I suck one guy – just a little bit – and then I suck the next one.” (Whenever I imagine this I’m always in Jefferson’s living room. Not because Jefferson’s living room -- which is home to a Hello Kitty city – is particularly sexy, it’s just that Jefferson’s living room is the only place I can imagine this particular scene occurring). I paused and squinted at Jim: “Would you like to see me do that?”
“And then I lie on my back and these men” — I paused to picture this— “There are four or five of them,” I counted, “One with his dick in my mouth,”
“That’s me,” Jim said.
“And one going down on me, and a few more jerking off on my tits… And one by one, they’d come on my tits…”
“I’m going to do that tonight,” Jim announced.
He sounded sort of masterful. I liked it. “Cool,” I panted. So when I had come, I turned over and slid his dick up and down my tits. I gazed at him from under my lids, my lips parted, looking as sullen and aching as I could. He came, a lot. Jim always seems to have so much in him.
In the morning Jim was back to his usual monosyllabic self, and, perversely, this made me brisk and cheerful. The thing is, I am not a brisk person, per se. I think that I’m afraid of indulging Jim, as though his dour exterior is deliberate moodiness rather than the result of awkward shyness. Anyway, I found myself asking him to make me a bowl of Cream of Wheat, which he did while I showered. We walked to the train station together, and on the platform I leaned close to him. He leaned into me, too, after a bit.
We got off the local after two stops and waited for the express. When the train came it was crowded. We hung back but then a train operator waved her arm at us, “Try the next car,” she advised.
I pushed my way inside but Jim was behind me on the platform when the doors shut. Why hadn’t he shoved in with me? He gave me a blank look, like he was helpless to make his way onto a subway car. This annoyed me.
“Why didn’t you get on?” the woman asked Jim as she opened up the doors to let him on. He looked at her blankly. “You two are in love!” she laughed. I smiled at her, embarrassed. Jim clambered into the car and stood next to me, looking absolutely miserable.
“Thanks,” I smiled. The woman was just being nice, and Jim hadn’t even smiled at her. I held in a sigh and we swayed next to each other as the train rumbled into Manhattan.
At last the subway car slid to a halt at Jim’s stop. I leaned over, to kiss him goodbye. “Here,” he said, and thrust a piece of paper into my hand.
It was a torn out page from a lined notebook, and it was folded into eighths. On the front was my name. I felt a sort of tender sickness, as if I might cry. “I wrote it when we first met,” Jim offered. I looked at him, and then he adjusted his knapsack on his shoulder and disappeared into the crowd.
I unfolded the paper slowly. The sheet was crammed with Jim’s small, neat handwriting. He had written me a poem.