Seattle, I love you.
Your almost ambivalent baristas
with their tattooed limbs
and thick plastic glasses
slowly melt my heart,
like the top of the espresso machine
warming the upside down ceramic cups
that casually rest upon it.
The mundane sustains us.
The breakfast sandwich
with its egg, cheese, bacon.
An egg-nog latte from the
nearby coffee stand
that you know you probably
shouldn’t have, but do it anyway.
The way you place your ferry pass
in the place where sunglasses
are supposed to go.
Today, the ferry captain
announces that there are
Orca whales passing by
the starboard side
of the boat. In this moment,
you learn that starboard
means the right side
and you also see your
first orca. This is not
mundane, of course, and
you make note of that
in the folds of your brain.
Then off to the library
to research grants. You
discover that it’s possible
to have two library cards
from different counties
at one time. You savor
this information like a
child holding two dripping
ice cream cones, each a
Driving away from the library,
it all seems to much. There
are not enough hours in the day
to get all the work done.
You are stretched too thin
(as always) and it’s no longer
as fun as it once was.
Parking the car on the corner
of First and Jackson in
downtown Seattle, you turn
the engine off and cry.
Cry because Mercury is in
retrograde for ten more days.
Cry because of hormones.
Cry because you fear of
ending up alone.
(like most people do.)
But when Billy Collins
takes the stage later
that evening at Town Hall,
the world rights itself.
Life can’t be all that bad
when there are Billy Collins-es
in the world, to tell you
that they are as old as Cheerios.
To tell you that dogs write poetry
in heaven, while cats write prose.
To tell the woman who asks the question:
“Litany is one of my favorite poems, and
I was just wondering, what would it take
for you to tell someone that they were
the pine-scented air?”
“Well, you are. You are the pine-scented air.”
With a flick of his irreverent wrist,
Billy Collins, in his khaki suit coat
sends this woman the missive she has
been waiting her entire life to hear.
And you walk away knowing
that we are all really
the pine-scented air.
Sitting on a marble bench
I can see ballet dancers
practicing their barre
at Pacific Northwest Ballet.
The International Fountain
hums and glistens
and the Space Needle
stands proud and tall.
Sunny and 70 degrees,
this is no longer Seattle.
Dogs are being walked,
women do yoga,
men throw frisbees.
Now the ballet dancers
are practicing jumps.
They leap across the
hardwood floor of the studio.
I leave my scattered thoughts
to dance with them
and I am left
sitting in harmony
with the world,
sun warming my face.
Everyone in Seattle is a writer.
The passive aggressive nature of the weather
in the Pacific Northwest lends itself well
as a backdrop to this particular profession.
The sporadic rays of warm sun give slivers of hope–
overcast is normal (and preferred), as it inspires
depression and dancing with alcoholism
(we’re all trying to be Hemmingway, anyway.)
Every coffeeshop an office that can be rented
for pennies on the hour. Each piece of latte art
a dictation taken and formed by the barista who really should be
somewhere else, really should be writing
in a studio in Capitol Hill, shared with
her cat named Lolita or Hester.
Instead, she is steaming milk for other writers:
grinding, dousing, furiously tamping the
finely ground espresso into the portafilter,
letting out her frustration for the poems
that remain unwritten, but not too much,
because espresso is temperamental–
hot waters shoots through and rich,
syrupy shots flow forth like nectar–
the feathered latte art a poem in and of itself
a wordless poem
that stands alone
ephemeral, but for
the hipster who
captures it with Instagram
slaps on a filter, posts,
and goes back to their
It was going to be one of those lonely lunches
consisting of me, myself and a salad
staring up at me
from within its cardboard cage.
I shuffled down 1st Avenue,
salad in hand, when I remembered
that I hadn’t yet checked
the Twitter feed of the bakery
in my building. Huzzah!
“Get a free loaf of bread
if you mention this tweet.”
Carbohydrate fortune had
never smiled so fondly
upon me. I was agog.
Normally, it was a cookie
or a muffin, but today,
A WHOLE LOAF OF BREAD.
I wasn’t greedy–
I chose a petite semolina baguette.
I caressed the wand of bread,
marveling at how fresh it smelled
even through the bag in which it was held.
I set the toaster oven at a low temperature
and gently tore off a third of the loaf.
The crunch of crust against crust
rang triumphantly throughout the empty office.
I ate the salad quickly, in anticipation
of the buttery, crunchy, yet chewy golden goodness
yet to come.
And suddenly, I was glad I was eating alone.
Only alone can you truly savor
eating freshly baked bread
The old, heavyset Indian man sits outside the vegan café selling single long-stem roses. He is clad in khaki and seems incongruous in Capitol Hill. Patrons walking into the shared entryway nestled between Plum Bistro and La Spiga are accosted by his piercing voice. At first, it sounds like he’s calling out “Excuse me?!”
If you make enough money to be eating at one of these locations, your first instinct is probably to pass him by without comment. Your eyes glaze over and your ears become plugged. Unless you are a particularly benevolent member of society. Or very curious.
Upon closer inspection, the cartoonish bouquet of individually wrapped long-stemmed roses becomes perplexing. Collectively, the mass of roses could be a giant’s corsage. Maybe he’s asking if you want to buy one of the many roses sitting next to him.
If you listen very carefully, you can discern the words coming out of his mouth in rapid speed and pitch.
“Red or PINK?!”
“Red or PINK?!”
“Red or PINK?!”
He asks this of everyone who enters.
“Red or PINK?!”
It has the percussive nature of a shot being sounded. Or perhaps Tourettes.
Occasionally, the old, heavyset Indian man leaves his post and pile of roses to go smoke a cigarette by machine that dispenses parking stickers for street parking. The cigarette is a meditation. Breathing out smoke onto the dark, rainy winter night, he feels peaceful.
Then it’s back to the grind. Back to screaming “Red or PINK?!” Back to the never-ending deluge of Capitol Hill hipsters that unnerve him with their androgyny. They are not his customers. Usually, it’s middle-aged men who sneak out of either restaurant on the pretext of going to the bathroom. The transaction is rushed in low-tones and if he’s lucky, they might not ask for change.
On a good night, he gets enough money to buy another pack of cigarettes. Or to stop in the International District and pick up some curry on the bus ride back to the shelter in Pioneer Square.
On the coldest of winter nights, he thinks about buying a phone card to try and reach his daughter in Chicago. Lila. She has long since Americanized her name to Lily. After he turned 60, he seemed to loose the gift of speech, so when he calls her, she recognizes his silence and will indulge his listening for fifteen or twenty minutes.
She talks about his grandchildren, whom he has never seen. They are in school now. The boy is seven and likes to draw airplanes. The girl is 5 and likes to play in the mud. Her husband’s dental practice is picking up, and she writes for newspapers and magazines.
“Hopefully, we can fly out to Seattle for the holidays, Dad. Or maybe you can fly here.”
But they both know that isn’t likely.
“I’m still working on your spy story, Dad. I’ll send it to you when it’s finished. Is it still the same address? Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission, 318 2nd Avenue?”
He murmurs something sounds like yes and she is satisfied.
“Take care of yourself, Dad. I love you.”
He does not feel like making one of these calls tonight. Instead, he chooses cigarettes and curry. They offer three meals a day at the shelter, but none of the food is as bold as curry.
He goes to his favorite little hole in the wall Indian place. He carefully places all of his roses on the counter by the window and sits down. The young Indian woman already knows his order and soon brings him a steaming bowl.
At first, he just smells. Inhales coriander, ginger, chili, fennel. Inhales childhood. Inhales first love. Inhales the birth of his daughter. Inhales all the pleasant memories that are warm and simple.
When he is satisfied, he takes his first bite. Spicy warmth and familiarity cascade past his tongue and down into his throat. He savors every bite. He licks the bowl clean.
He always leaves his waitress a pink rose. At first, she protested politely. Now she looks forward to the nights he comes into the restaurant. He reminds her of her grandfather who passed away. After the roses have lost their vitality, she hangs them upside down and dries the petals meticulously for some unknown purpose.
If it’s not too cold out, he will walk the eight blocks from the International District to Pioneer Square. The khaki newsboy cap keeps his balding head warm.
He retires to his small grey room on the second floor and listens to spy novels on tape. His favorites are those written by Ian Fleming and John Le Carré. He finds the tapes he wants by looking for the sticker with a red magnifying glass on the plastic spine.
He falls asleep to the escapades of James Bond and George Smiley and remembers fondly the adventures he had when he was young.
The next day he wakes up and does it all over again. The morning visit to Seattle Public Library, followed by the bus ride up to Capitol Hill with his roses.
“Red or PINK?!”
“Red or PINK?!”
“Red or PINK?!”
Believe it or not, he is happy. He is not alone. He has his spy stories. He has his roses. He has Seattle.
“Goodbye,” said the country mouse, “You do, indeed, live in a plentiful city, but I am going home where I can enjoy my dinner in peace.” -The City Mouse and the Country Mouse
I was recently hired as Hedgebrook’s Development Associate. When I first started thinking about my career trajectory, I was certain that my focus was going to be education and programming for the arts. My undergraduate degree is in Theatre and I have always been passionate about bringing theatre to audiences of all ages. It soon became evident to me, however, that development is what actually makes me the most excited.
It is a common perception that development is about raising money. And while grant writing and fundraising are a large part of the job, at its core, development is all about relationships. I will be taking a class in resource development this summer and look forward to using what I learn to expand Hedgebrook’s reach in local, national and international communities. I cannot wait to start developing those relationships.
Hedgebrook has a unique organizational structure. There is the Whidbey Island office, located adjacent to the retreat. In addition, the marketing, communications and development office is housed in the Grand Central Building in Seattle’s Pioneer Square. I live on Whidbey Island. When I tell people about my new job, they often assume that I am going to move to Seattle.
The commute from Whidbey to Seattle may seem daunting to some, but I love it. How many people get to say that they take both a boat and a train to work? Or walk past a waterfall garden?
When asked if I prefer the Whidbey or Seattle Hedgebrook, the answer is complicated. The beautiful retreat and the core Writers in Residence program is at the heart of the organization. I am reminded of a paper I submitted for a fall quarter class, in which I likened the structure of a nonprofit to the circulatory system: “The circulatory system prevents disease and stabilizes the organism. It keeps the life-blood flowing to the most important organ: the heart.”
The work we do in Seattle helps support Hedgbrook’s heart. I am honored to be part of that circulatory system. And at the end of the day, I physically get to return to the island where the heart is housed. This is all to say that while I prefer working in the Seattle, I would rather have dinner on Whidbey. Just like the country mouse.