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One story leads to another…

September 25, 2009

John Hartness

John Hartness

Note from Crystal, Story Slam’s town crier: One of the more magical moments that I’ve personally experienced at the Slam was hearing John Hartness read a brand spankin’ new poem. It was literally only a few hours old.

I asked John to write about what happened for a piece that Mark Woods is working on for Charlotte Viewpoint. What happened for John is a prime example of what Story Slam is all about… it’s all story.

Here is John’s version of what went down:

When I was listening to Gina Stewart and Brenda Gambill’s set on September 4th, Gina’s story cut loose a chunk of writer’s block I’d been wrestling with for several days.

Gina Stewart

Gina Stewart

She told a story about walking down the street in New York City and seeing a guy sitting in the doorway of the Chelsea Hotel cutting himself. She thought for a minute before going over to him and asking him if he was okay, and that triggered a poem in me.

A few days before I’d watched a guy put back a two-piece fried chicken meal at a gas station and count pennies to see how many corn dogs he could afford to eat instead, and I studiously didn’t see him standing there in front of me.

Hearing Gina’s story brought that back to me, and reminded me that it’s not just okay, it’s our job to see the people around us who need our help. This poem came out of that story and song, and I read it before the Story Slam the next night.

Chelsea (for Gina)

by John Hartness

I don’t see him dragging a stolen Food Lion grocery cart uphill

loaded down with a hot water heater and cans picked up

off the side of the road

heading for the recycling center hoping for just enough

to get another bottle of get me through the night.

I don’t see her pay for a corn dog and cup of complimentary ice

with pennies and haul the seven mismatched garbage bags

that make up her whole world out into the heat of the August afternoon.

I don’t see him sitting in the rain mumbling at nothing

and carving names into his wiry limbs with a rusty jacknife

while his own blood drips pink

and runs off down the sidewalk,

puddling for a second around my Ecco loafers.

But I see you

kneeling in front of a wild-eyed Walt Whitman madman

to say “hey man, you alright?”

I look at you

in your duct-taped Doc Martens

thrift-store Dickie’s work shirt

maybe a dollar and a half in your own pocket

while you kneel on the wet concrete

to touch the face of a stranger

and for a minute

before the world washes my vision away again

I see.

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