Ma Pee Pole

I went to a poetry reading the other night where the featured poets read first and the open mic follows. This order is not what I am used to but there is some logic to it, nevertheless. It guarantees an audience for the features, since many of the open-mic readers will leave as soon as they have finished reading. Poets are generally a self-centered lot.

While I was finding a seat and sitting down, I noticed an older women, a "person of color," rolling in a small cart with a large carton of documents, her poems I presumed. It reminded me of what you see in court. Both lawyers—the Plaintiff's and the Defendant's—wheeling into court container after container of documents to make their clients' cases. I had some misgivings, and apparently my stomach did too. It began to growl after she was introduced and began to read, talking about "ma pee pole," which sounded to me like some kind of pole on which one urinates.

My stomach made a suggestion. It suggested that we slip out and get a muffin at the market we had passed on the way to the reading. At first I resisted the suggestion. "Stomach," I said, "this good woman has come all the way from Oakland, Alameda, Richmond—maybe even Antioch!—to share her life experience with us!" And I hunkered down to hear her life story as an activist, community builder, catalyst for change, and revolutionary poet of the poor.

But soon it was not just my stomach that was making suggestions; it was my entire digestive tract. What could I do? I took my stomach's advice and slipped out as the good woman was talking about clogged gutters with half-eaten hotdogs in her neighborhood and, by the tone of her voice, making me feel responsible.

It was cool and refreshing outside. No one was complaining about anything; not a bug stirred in the hedge hugging the curb. My stomach and I headed back down the street, the same way we had come. And we were in luck: the market was still open.

I went in and bought a nice little muffin from a young man at the pastry counter who did not seem to have a care in the world; he looked happy with his lot in life, whatever it was. I thanked him, he thanked me, and there was no animosity between us.

Stomach and I ate the muffin outside the market as it was beginning to close down. And we drank a little wine, which I always carry with me to deal with "harsh occasions." Then we took a walk around the little town that was build in a glen, the air fresh from the leaves of its many trees. Stomach and I walked up and down the main street, Diamond I think it was called, stretched limbs, then turned around and began to head back to the poetry reading at a well known book store named for a saxophone player and a playwright. I sincerely hoped that wine, muffin, and walk had consumed enough time that the second feature had begun.

But heading back I noticed, as I had earlier, the new emergency medical care facility on the corner across from the BART station. I have always liked the idea of emergency medical care facilities where you can just walk in and get care for a finger that you have smashed with a hammer in the garage, a thumb sliced with a paring knife in the kitchen, or whatever ails you.

While I had not smashed my finger or sliced my thumb, I was curious: What about an emergency of the mouth, a toothache perhaps, bleeding gums? Could they handle that too?

There were two friendly looking staffers in the clean, well lit facility, both dressed in starched blue uniforms. They looked eager and ready to help me, whatever my problem might be. But I didn't want to get their hopes up that I was injured and in need of care.

"I am curious," I stated approaching the counter that separates the well from the unwell in such places. "Do you deal with dental emergencies?"

"No, I'm afraid not," I was told by the male staffer. I detected a little disappointment in his response. "Most people," he said, "can make it to morning with a toothache, then see their dentist. But it's not a bad idea. We'll pass it on." I didn't think he really would but I liked the guy; he had a look of common sense about him, something not seen too often these days.

Then the female staffer smiled and asked: "Any aches or pains of the body below mind or mouth?" She looked hopeful that I had some kind of problem.

"Well," I said, "only a kind of pain in the butt. You see, I was at a poetry reading up the street and ..."

"Hold it right there," said the male staffer, his right hand held high like the stop sign of a school crossing guard. "Poetry is like smoking cigarettes; it's bad for your health and it's not going to make you happy. I know. I once went to a poetry reading. I was depressed for weeks afterwards."

"So did I," confessed the female staffer looking down. "I even started writing poems and screwing up the courage to read them in public. Thank god, I got control of myself. You have to be strong!"

"I know that," I said sheepishly, "but I'm kind of addicted."

"Yes, yes," said the male staffer, "I know all about that. We do have an addiction program at our other facility. I can give you a brochure."

I took the brochure and headed back up the street. And guess what? The second feature was just beginning. It was by a lively young woman talking about her vagina. I was not sure how happy that was going to make me but it was more promising than "ma pee pole" and clogged gutters with half-eaten hot dogs, which I really did not think was my fault.
By Louis Martin