I should mention that I am teaching myself to lie convincingly, because lying is a useful skill.

I go to a poetry open mic night on Sundays, in a local coffeeshop, and though I do not write poetry, I love the warm light of the stage. Sometimes I get up and read whatever has moved me most recently. English poets, or American occasionally, reading translations always seemed like a betrayal to me. I'm trying to learn French, but you know, they have the strangest puns and wordplay. So I stick with English.

Wednesday night, I told a lie in front of that mic: "So my mom found out that I like to read poetry, and she's a teacher, a French teacher in a high school. She wanted to surprise me so she asked the English teacher she works with to recommend something. She mails me this." I held up the book. "Bukowski."

Everyone groaned. And I said "So is it okay for me to read a really awful one? I mean... really horrible." And their response was "Is there any other kind?" So I opened up to the one titled Somebody. And I said, "No, really, I can read something else," and held up a pink and tattered leaf, containing a love poem written by an absent friend. But they're saying I should get on with the violence.

all the long lines of starvation within me
and I walked over
and grabbed her on the couch
ripped her dress up around her face

People clapped. I was a little shocked. I mean, listen to how polite we are. We can't even boo a poem when it makes us want to vomit? We just clap. I even got catcalls. It's like this everywhere.

The host, or master of ceremonies, or, you know, the guy in charge of the microphone, well, he looks at me as I walk back to my seat and he says "I always feel beat up after listening to Bukowski."

and I didn't care
rape or the end of the earth
one more time
to be there

"Yes, me too. That's why I read it." I was lying when I said that, too. I read that poem, in front of thirty of my closest strangers, and I meant it. I was not identifying with my listeners, I was not racked with empathy for the nameless woman whose stockings I was ripping now with my lips. I was the man who wants something so blindly that he cannot stop and hear the protest of another human being. Out of control. Just for a minute, I was filled up with that testosterone, and I was pouring out these hurtful words at my certainly innocent poet audience. I feared that I was starting to understand him.

And it's true, Even while I was standing on the stage, when I was adding my saliva to the collection inside the microphone, I could hear them, I always hear how they suck in their breath when someone says the "R-word." I could hear them shifting their coffeecups, saw them turn their faces down, away, anywhere but at me.

I saw myself hurting them then, betraying their trust that I would give them some kind of inspirational light and happiness. I was hitting them too deep, and even though I asked permission, even though they could have taken the mic from me at any moment, they didn't.

They clapped.

So this is me, again changed, Fi the verbal rapist, whose victims only whispered "No," in their thoughts and under their breath, but suffered just the same. My little victims who politely applaud after I'm finished with them.

But this is all lies anyway, because I never was that guy and I never will be. I never was Charles B. or Henry C. and I never will be. I never took someone by force, and I pray that I am never capable of it. I just tasted his confessions on my tongue for 3 minutes.

When I was done reading, I said "Thanks," but what I meant was "Why are you clapping when you should be screaming?" I suppose I have a ways to go before I master the art of reading poetry.

Quoted text in italics: "Someone" by Charles Bukowski, from Mockingbird Wish Me Luck pubished by Black Sparrow Books, copyright June 1972.