Open Mic

By Jesse Wallis

Featured Art: Dancers by Edgar Degas

I don’t know how, but I knew as soon as he said it, he would get lost
after the bridge. “I’m still working on this one,” he began, tightening
the strings. “Hope I make it through.” It was the third song the young
man played. He was really quite good, if new. His tenor voice earnest,
fingers deliberate in finding the chords along the neck of the acoustic.

But exactly where I had thought, he forgot the lyrics, shook his head
while he strummed on in circles. Until he whispered under his breath,
“I’m sorry,” and I called out, Muriel plays piano. With a broad smile,
he nodded, “Very good. Thank you.” Then picked it up, Muriel plays
piano every Friday at The Hollywood
, and brought it home as strong
as he’d started. This was at a small coffee shop in Carefree, Arizona.
On the patio strung with white lights, maybe a dozen people, a night
in November cold enough to recollect. My wife and I had separated
recently. A friend was trying to get me out in the world, to keep me
busy. And at least for that moment, I felt like I belonged someplace
again. I had something someone needed. Realized anyone could get
lost, even in Carefree. Yet every now and then, the invisible chords
connecting us—even with a complete stranger—sway in the breeze
like silk filaments of a web and catch the light. And you can follow
that flashing back, the path familiar as a song. You know the words.

Jesse Wallis’s poems have appeared in Arts & Letters, Barrow Street, Image, Southern Poetry Review, The Southern Review, Zone 3 and elsewhere. He studied writing and film at the University of Iowa and, prior to that, art at Syracuse University and the California Institute of the Arts. After living in Japan for nine years, he returned to his hometown of Phoenix, where he works in human resources for a public school district.

Originally published in NOR 18: Fall 2015

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