Wednesday, August 8, 2018

"After Second Shift" by Lowell Jaeger, Contest Judge

After Second Shift
Lowell Jaeger

"Cold Meeting" Ink on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon
She’s stopped to shop for groceries.
Her snow boots sloshing
up and down the aisles, the store
deserted: couple stock boys
droning through cases of canned goods,
one sleepy checker at the till.

In the parking lot, an elderly man
stands mumbling outside his sedan,
all four doors wide to gusting sleet
and ice.  She asks him, Are you okay?
He’s wearing pajama pants, torn slippers,
rumpled sport coat, knit wool hat.

Says he’s waiting for his wife.
I just talked to her on the pay phone 
over there.  He’s pointing at
the Coke machine. What pay phone?
she says.  That one, he says.
It’s cold, she says and escorts him inside.  

Don’t come with lights
and sirens, she tells the 911 
dispatcher.  You’ll scare him.

They stand together. The checker
brings him a cup of coffee.  
They talk about the snow.
So much snow.

They watch for the cop.
This night, black as any night,
or a bit less so.

Poet's Notes:  I’m pleased to tell you that this poem was featured on Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac (see Editor's Note).  Of all my poems, a certain few move from reader to reader and seem to catch on via a mysterious power of their own.  Why do some poems strike a chord with a broad readership while others do not?  I suspect it has something to do with the poem succeeding in reminding us of what is essentially human, what is universal.  Isn’t this also the power behind ancient myths and tales which have lasted over the centuries?

Indeed, I mostly stole this story from a student. The assignment: define “kindness” by writing a narrative essay describing in detail an incident in your life when you experienced giving or receiving an act of kindness.  The student told the story I re-told in my poem.

I said I “stole” the story but I don’t think that’s exactly what happened.  The story touched me, reminded me of what is essentially human.  I fell in love with the story.  I wanted to add the story to my story.  I wanted to pass it along.  “Amateurs borrow,” said T.S. Eliot, “professionals steal.”  That may not be exactly what he said (see Editor's Note), but it’s what I heard from someone else who heard it from someone else, etc.  So I pass the story on because it is an echo of something worth pondering.

Editor's Note:  Listen to Garrison Keillor recite "After Second Shift" here https://www.writersalmanac.org/index.html%3Fp=9341.html.  Cue the recording 2:54 or just listen to the whole presentation.  Personally, I could listen to Garrison Keillor read the phonebook.

In addition to being featured on Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac, "After Second Shift" was previously published in Blotter Magazine, The Kindness of Strangers AnthologyOr Maybe I Drift Off Alone, Soundings Review, and The Writer's Almanac.

The actual, word-for-word quotation attributed to T.S. Eliot and paraphrased by Lowell (and many others) is, "Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal," https://www.poetryfoundation.org/articles/70086/word-theft.

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