Last weekend, while Leyna was sitting on my couch plucking silver cat hairs out of her mouth and eyes, I was in Florida.
I was in Florida to meet the subjects of many of my poems: astronauts. I flew across the country to stare at a room full of old men.
There were over thirty astronauts in attendance, all sitting behind tables waiting for people to shove photographs or model Saturn V’s in their faces to be signed.
It was the most unnatural and uncomfortable way to meet someone. It was like being at a zoo. At a very expensive zoo. With freakishly smart and unnervingly famous animals.
When you’ve had a crush on someone from afar, a first interaction might be intimidating.
When you’ve had a crush on someone for over fourteen years, have researched them and placed them in your poetry, a first interaction is almost pointless. Why? Because you’re blacked out for the majority of the experience.
What did I say to Jim Lovell? I don’t really know.
There is a certain level of pressure on writers to be good with their words. It’s the one way people expect me to display talent. I was once signing a wedding guest book and announced I didn’t know what to say. The group around me scoffed and several people said things like “You’re a poet, write a poem.”
Duh. You’re a writer. Write. Do it. Now. On cue. Write a damn poem.
I find myself, like most people, repeating past conversations in my head. Picking apart how I handled the situation, second guessing what I said, analyzing how poorly I expressed what I actually felt. I think it’s rare, especially in emotionally charged situations, for people to clearly communicate thoughts.
When you are upset with someone, or miss someone or love someone, do we ever really know what to say? And don’t even get me started on apologies.
I wanted to express my admiration, respect, and loyalty to Jim Lovell. I wanted to express how much of a fan I’ve been all these years, but to also lean over and whisper out of the side of my mouth “but I’m not creepy and obsessive like the rest of these goons here.”
But, like the goon I am, I didn’t say any of these things. I think I simply asked how his day was and we joked about not letting my father know how much I was spending on autographs. I know I asked him to point to the moon with me, but only because I have photographic evidence.
This is why I write poetry. So I can choose the exact words. In the privacy of my own home. In the comfort of my own pajamas. Put me on the spot and I have no idea what to say. Put me in an empty room with nobody knowing I’m writing a poem and I can fine-tune what I want to say about the world around me.
And while meeting Jim Lovell is undoubtedly one of the most emotionally overwhelming and genuinely special moments of my life, I remember the conversation I held with Shuttle astronaut Mike McCulley and Mercury nurse Dee O’Hara with more clarity. I wasn’t trying to force those moments, they just happened by chance.
This is how poetry should be – nothing should be expected or demanded of it. Because then there is too much pressure.
In the words of David Sedaris:
“I wanted to force a moment out of it. The operative word here, the source of the problem, is force. Because it never works that way. In trying to be memorable, you wind up sounding unspeakably queer, which may be remembered but never the way you’d hoped.”