Wednesday, November 14, 2007

what I learned from a night of not talking

I dressed up as a mime the other day
an attention-getting move, considering
I was going to the poetry slam
mimes are reviled by slam poets because
they make more money than poets
and they don’t have anything to say

I concocted a costume like Marcel Marceau’s with bits from Value Village
bought a wig and a top hat
sewed on a red rose – ah, the fragility of life
applied white face paint and exaggerated lips, brows, eyeliner
and once I was done, I did not talk – not one bit
I can’t honestly say I was a mime – that takes years of having nothing to say
but I was dressed up as one

I expected to have some fun
and make a statement
and maybe get punched
well, not really, it is the poetry slam after all

What I didn’t expect was the experience
of becoming unrecognizable
at least to some of the people
invisible to others
irritating as hell to others still

Here’s what I learned from my night of dressing up as a mime at the poetry slam:

People don’t like it when you know them, but they don’t know you
but they pretend that it doesn’t bother them
I got more fake smiles and waves that night
it took me a while to figure out
people did not know it was me
but I could read their thoughts
“Who is that scary clown? What a freak!”
and feel their relief when I passed

I learned that
people admire you when you go out on a limb
the ones who knew it was me told me
that it was very cool that I really didn’t talk at all, all night
they said they liked my costume, my poster-card haiku
my effort to reconcile mimes and poets at a tribute slam
no matter who you are, it’s still what you do
that shapes the way that people think of you

I learned that
people say things to mimes that
they would not say to someone who might answer back
and that people say things near mimes that they wouldn’t risk having overheard
in regular circumstances
I learned secrets in my night of mimehood
that would not otherwise have been revealed

I learned that people do not like to struggle
to understand
maybe they’re tired of deaf people handing out those sign language cards
and asking for money
maybe they’re just creeped out by
the one-sided experience of talking with a non-verbal adult
it’s not one-sided, really
it’s just different
it could be fun
that, perhaps, was my only disappointment
nobody attempted to speak mime back to me

I learned that it is very hard
not to talk when you see people who you know
not to shout with delight
roar with outrage
heckle with impunity
clapping, beaming and handshake pumping only go so far
to express the thoughts that jump like beans behind a clenched-jaw smile

So I took photographs
finally, I felt a sense of place
in the stereotyped behaviour of the clinch and grin
my friends who did not know me
knew what was expected, and breathed out
pretty much everyone in the place posed for my camera
allowing me to capture them
in their own nonverbal moment of
and even though I lack the skills to convey it eloquently, without words
I knew in that moment what it was to be a mime
loved and welcomed
at a poetry slam

And that’s all for now because
I really don’t have anything

to say


Pearl said...

wow, unique experience. A lot more out of it that you or i or anyone else might have guessed ahead of time.

Carol said...

(Said silently, as from one mime to another)That poem is great.