“Would you like a cup of coffee, Ms. Worthington?”
Douglas Reynolds hoped his voice sounded friendly, for surely the last place he wished to be today was here, at Woody’s, interviewing Danika Worthington, Greeley’s newest phenomenon, a newly published author who was a poet, no less. Not that he had a choice in this matter. Being a reporter meant occasional Quid pro Quo, and this was definitely some of the Quid.
Ms. Worthington couldn’t have looked less like Douglas’ ideal of a poet. Tiny and mousey came to Douglas’ mind and these where the most complimentary compliments he could dredge up. But her eyes were anything but timid as she stared up at him above the rims of her cat-eye glasses. “Single shot soy latte.” She didn’t request, her words were more than a request, but they also weren’t an order. They were something somewhere between the two. For the first time in a long time, this reporter was at a loss for the right descriptive words. It was disconcerting.
“And it’s Miss, not Ms.”
Douglas blinked. “I’m sorry, Miss Worthington.” At least now he had an idea why the 45-year-old poet was still a Miss and not a Mrs.
“Danika, if you don’t mind.”
Danika settled into the chair, laying her carrying case sized purse and her jacket on the neighboring chair. Douglas laid his note pad on the table. “Be right back. I’ll go order our drinks.”
All too quickly the efficient staff served up the drinks he had ordered, Danika’s soy latte and his “cup of Joe, you know.” The barista knew his “cup of Joe” translated to a medium dark French Sumatra, no cream or sugar. He was hooked on the French Sumatra, having heard about it while listening to Wendy Wham sing its praises on her popular radio show.
He carried the cups back to the table and settled in, took a sip of the dark nectar (as Wendy liked to call it), flipped open his note pad, and popped the cap off his pen. He had done all he could to stall. “Mike Peters, you owe me,” he groused inwardly. “OK, let’s get this over.”
“So Danika, how did you react when you got word that Random House was publishing Metamorphoses and Other Poems?”
“It was about time,” Danika replied. Earnest was the descriptive word that came to Douglas’ mind.
“Good Lord, I’ve been writing poems since I was nine. I’ve had 627 poems published in magazines and journals. It was about time that some editor recognized my craftsmanship and offered to publish my book.”
“Since you were nine,” he jotted down that fact. “627 poems published. Um…what led you to write poetry at nine?”
“Nothing led me. It was always there in me seeking to be let out. Oh, I know, Mr. Reynolds.” (“Douglas,” he interrupted, but she didn’t pause). “Everybody wants me to have read Emily Dickenson or Elizabeth Bishop and to have immediately undergone an epiphany, to have made it my goal to be the next Sara Teasdale, Edna St. Vincent Millay, or Sylvia Plath. There was no transmigration of my soul. I’m not channeling a dead poet. It wasn’t like that at all. Instead, these words rose up unbidden and I, being only nine, simply wrote them down.” (Bitter was the descriptive word that occurred to Douglas).
“So you are saying you had no training as a poet; no class work, no mentors, or anything like that, just the touch of the muse?”
“Of course I had training, but nothing like what you suggested. I did it all on my own and none of those silly ‘How to write Poetry” books, either. I read the poets, really read them. Read them, and not the flaky criticisms written by critics who could never write a poem that could stand with the poems of the author they critique. Good Lord, have mercy. Spare me the critics.”
“Amen,” thought Douglas, although he was thinking more about authors than critics. How did this conversation go so quickly wrong?” “So how old were you when your first poem was published?”
Douglas’s eyebrows arched up. “Ten years old? Seriously?”
“Yes. I was published in Cobblestone Magazine.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t recognize the title.”
“Didn’t think you would. It’s a children’s magazine on history, really quite a good magazine, too. They publish reader’s poems and art work related to the theme of each issue. My poem was about Abraham Lincoln. It started like this, “When lilacs last in the doorway bloomed.”
“Seriously?” Douglas’s eyebrows arched even higher, wondering what lilacs might have to do with Lincoln.
“Good Lord, no. Just checking to see how ignorant you might be. My poem was all about our glorious and tragically slain leader. Awful stuff, but it was my first published poem. The first poem I was paid for, I was thirteen. Bird Watcher’s Digest paid me for a poem about bird tracks in the snow being a mural whose artist was god, that’s with a little g—not the Christian Jehovah, great and glorious. More like the Roman Pan, earthy and capricious.”
“So which of your poems is your favorite one?”
“The next one I will write is always my favorite one.”
“So your most recent favorite is?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t written it yet.”
Douglas cursed Mike Peters again. “Drat Mike’s doctor’s appointment in Denver. He should be asking these questions. After all, he’s the human interest reporter.”
“OK, what is the last poem you wrote?”
“You expect me to recite it from memory?”
“Sorry, but I did bring a copy. Here it is.” Danika handed him a poor quality copy from a printer obviously short on toner. He shifted his glasses to utilize his bifocals. He read.
say I cry easily gathering around the fireplace
inexplicable happiness, but often drinking warm
maybe going public our stash of toys
embarrassingly, so she maintained
a big, floppy hat, wearing a green tractor
like a cloudburst that can’t, gathered around
persecution, into outcasts that magical tree
not before or after, leave the farm and move
is quite an ordeal, for the farmhouse one day
the best argument: good news never comes in late.
“What does it mean?” he blurted out before he could think. After a moment, he did think, either it’s too ethereal or its gibberish. Personally, I’m going with gibberish.”
“What do you think it means?”
“Now I’ve got myself into it,” he decided. “Might as well go all in.”
“Ma’am,” he said, (“Danika”, she said, but he plowed on). “I’m just a sports reporter for the local paper—a High School sports reporter. I write about touchdowns and spikes, medley relays and strikeouts. I just put down plain, simple prose for people who want to know what the score was and for parents who want to clip the article and put it in their child’s school box along with their report cards and fifth grade chalk imitations of Monet’s ballerinas. I have no idea what this poem means. Furthermore, what does the title have to do with the poem?”
“Well, maybe it means nothing. I am just the instrument. The words demanded expression. I simply put down the words that wanted to be said. It is up to the reader to discern the meaning.” (“Snippy,” Douglas thought. It was the perfect descriptive word).
“Then wouldn’t just about anybody be able to write down meaningless lines and get them published as poems?”
“No. That would not be possible. The editors know what serious poetry is and what meaningless gibberish is.”
“So your editor understands this poem?”
“Yes. She was quite enthusiastic about it.”
Douglas sat back, bewildered. “Glad I’m a sports writer.” “Ok. Only a couple more questions, shouldn’t take too long. Favorite food?”
“The Rubiyat of Omar Khayyam.”
“Ur…OK.” He wrote down her reply. “Favorite drink?”
“Mendelssohn’s second Piano Concerto.”
Douglas stopped writing as he volleyed the rest of the questions. “Favorite book?”
“What do you plan to write next?”
“A poem about how shooting a reporter in the head is only a flesh wound. You have to shoot them in the gut to kill them.”
“Are you crazy?”
“How did you choose the poems that appear in your book?”
“I didn’t. My editor chose them from the 627 poems I have published. Used Tarot to select them, I believe. I thought she did an outstanding job, although I might have used a coin toss myself.”
“Well, Danika, I believe that wraps up our interview. The Friday edition will carry your story. I hope it will please you. In our phone conversation, I asked you to bring a photograph to use with the story, preferably black and white. Did you bring one with you?”
“I did.” Danika rummaged through her purse, then pulled from it depths a small photo. She handed it to Douglas. He glanced at it. He blinked.
“But this isn’t a picture of you, Danika.”
“Of course not. It is my great-uncle Arthur. I rather like the picture, so I chose to use it. After all, you never said the picture had to be a picture of me. You just said you needed a picture to use with the story.”
Long after Danika Worthington left Woody’s, Douglas Reynolds sat at the table, the picture of great-uncle Arthur, the badly copied poem, and his note pad before him. For the second time in an hour he was searching for the right descriptive words to use in a sentence. The sentence began, “Mike Peters, I’m going to….” He never found the right words to complete the sentence.