Everyone Is Looking at You by Mark Baldyga

February 14, 2016

You’re not the type of person to go to poetry readings, but tonight you came anyway. Now you’re sitting here, in this café, on this stool, looking for something. The next line to your poem. How does it go? Cataracts like raindrops on the windshield / She leans over to—to what? What would she lean over to do? Kiss you? Fat chance. Not even the fictional women in your poetry want anything to do with you. Not even you want anything to do with you. You’re shaking on a stool in front of fifteen people on a Wednesday night, mumbling your way through a poem you wrote in ten minutes before you left for work, and you can’t even remember how it goes because you left your notebook on the bus. Life, for you, is cruel in a casual and disinterested kind of way.

The room is quiet.

In the audience, someone coughs. You think it might have been a fake cough, but you’re not sure. You contemplate reaching for the microphone and asking the guy with the beard in the tweed if his cough was a real cough or a fake cough, but the microphone seems so very far away and your hands are shaking in your lap and besides you don’t really think you want to hear the answer anyway.

The room is quiet.

Two girls are sitting near you, looking up. Every few seconds the left one leans over to whisper in the right one’s ear, and you think the left one’s kind of cute but her friend scares you because blonde women in general scare you and suddenly it comes to you the way sleep does and you don’t know how you could have forgotten—whispering, She leans over to whisper in my ear. You say the line. It comes out halting, pausing, skipping, breaking, stumbling, stammering, faltering.

Okay, what now? What does she whisper in your ear? Something profound, no doubt. Something you could have thought of only in those ten minutes before work. You sit there and wait for it to come to you but it doesn’t—you are waiting for a boomerang but have thrown a banana.

The room is quiet.

You look at the girls. The one on the left is still whispering, but the one on the right has started shaking, laughing silently, covering her mouth with one hand and crinkling her eyes the way people do. All around you the silence beats down like a sun. You want to get up and leave but you can’t, not until you finish this poem. Can you end it now? End on She leans over to whisper in my ear? No, you’ve waited too long. The only way out is to keep going. Next line, last one.

The room is quiet.

What does she whisper in your ear?

The room is quiet.

People shift in their seats restlessly.

The room is quiet.

Everyone is leaning over to whisper in everyone else’s ear.

The room is quiet.

Everyone is covering their mouth with one hand and crinkling their eyes the way people do.

The room is quiet.

Everyone is looking at you.

The room is quiet.

You pick a line.

And take a breath.

And say it.

It wasn’t in the poem when you wrote it, but it works. It’s five words long and ends on life. And even though your mouth is dry and your voice cracks on the first word and you stutter twice on the second you do not look down at your hands which are still shaking and you do not start over. You sit there, in this café, on this stool, and feel glad you came.


Mark Baldyga is a Brooklyn-based writer, poet, and digital artist currently pursuing a BA in Written Arts at Bard College. This is his first publication.