Street Poet

Christmas Shoppers,
Downtown Seattle
Seattle, USA
November 30, 2009

The black man with pink headphones dangling around his neck approached me. It was around 11:00 P.M. I was walking through Chinatown on my way back to my studio.

"Hi. Hello," he addressed me. He held out a clenched fist, which I--unhip and slow on the uptake--took a few seconds to recall was today's equivalent of a handshake. We bumped fists together.

"I am Ivan. I am from the West Indies. I am a street poet," he declared.

"I can compose a poem using your name right now," he continued in his Caribbean lilt. "I need to get some rice at that restaurant over there," he said nodding his head in the direction of a cheap Chinese restaurant further up King Street.

"Here," I said, fumbling about in my pocket for my coin purse. He refused my money even before I had fished anything out:

"No. No. Let me earn it. What is your name?"

I didn't want a poem based on my name. "No... what's in your heart now? That's the poem I want," I told the street poet.

He blinked a few times, considering. Ivan then drew his materials out from the breast pocket of his coat. His pen was a big, black Sharpie marker. His paper was a free postcard announcing a photography exhibition at a nearby cafe, Zeitgest Coffee. He scribbled deliberately:

Light of
Inner Peace
finds an
To clear
the shadows
of a forgotten preserve
I gave Ivan a dollar coin. Half a block on I arrived at my apartment, walked upstairs, then stuck the poem on display beneath refrigerator magnets.