the best things about being invited to The Mercury Cafe in Denver

    Some of the best things about being invited to read at the Mercury Café in Denver on 08/17/2007 as one of the finalists for the Colorado Book Award for poetry were seeing my old friends Naomi Horii and Jim Uba, Bob King, and the new staff of Many Mountains Moving, which is both a literary journal of diverse contemporaries and a small poetry press (Barbara Sorensen, Malinda Miller, & Erik Nilsen) were all there. Another gift of the journey was visiting the Shambhala Center in Boulder. The invitation to the Mercury was the “gift” that made all the others possible.

(I left Colorado at the end of June and now live in Philadelphia, but I realized when I flew back to Denver that I still feel more like I live in Colorado than where I am actually living. The great pressure of things to take care of all in a rush may have pushed out of my mind the realization that I was really leaving the place which, for better and worse, was my home for almost five years.)

During this very brief visit (around 42 hours in the West) I was staying at the house of Naomi & Jim and had lunch with Bob in Boulder the day of the reading. It was wonderful to see my friends without the constraints of the very tight schedule of work that was always around me when I worked at University of Northern Colorado. Naomi and Jim are among the most enlightened and generously giving people I have ever met. Bob is one of the nicest and most talented of all the poets I have ever met. If a great man has the heart of a child, Bob is one of those who seems to have reversed the aging process by growing “greater” and greater as time has passed.

Since I was by myself after having lunch with Bob at the Himalaya Restaurant and catching up on things, I felt free to stop in at the Shambhala Center in Boulder, which is a very large and beautifully maintained building not far from the Pearl Street Mall. I knew that Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche came and went there, but this had always been just on the edge of my consciousness. I had just meant to see what it was like inside, and it had the feel of a place where people were around, but I didn’t see anyone at all on the first floor at the reception area, the gift shop, or in any of the rooms on the first floor. I wandered up to the second floor and heard someone in an office talking quietly on the phone. Finally, I found the great hall where meditation took place, and it was much larger and more elaborate than I’d imagined it could be. It was just the kind of place where you could imagine a great spiritual teacher being.

I saw some shoes on the floor and realized someone was in there quietly meditating, and then I decided I should take this opportunity also. It took a while for me to settle on a form of meditation that produced a noticeable change—it was the gayatri mantra. I felt great tingling and warmth with every breath, and a lot of energy moving up through me and out through my mouth. I could easily imagine Sakyong there leading the meditation right there, and this was inspiring because he has done so much work to transform himself and to make himself what he is now. I thought at first I’d only be there for a little while, but it turned into an hour that was very powerful as a cathartic, in a sense. I decided to forgive a lot of people in Colorado for things that they did that they knew were wrong and destructive. Then many of the worries I’d been carrying felt much lighter suddenly, including some from a bad dream that same early morning.

I ran a few errands on the Pearl St. Mall, and then returned to Naomi’s, and then we went to the Mercury. There was a good turnout, and the staff was very nice. The room for the reading was almost a square shape and large enough to hold maybe twenty small café tables, all of which were full of people. There were many-colored strings of lights draped all over from the ceiling. I was the second to last to read in a long program. Just before I started to read, I tried to remember the incident that inspired the poem, “identity papers.” I drew upon the spontaneously rising energy from the day’s meditation during the reading, and it helped a lot so that I felt very connected to the audience all the way through. I could sense that they were hanging on the comic pauses, waiting for the actions to unfold. I also have gotten to know this poem so well that I don’t really need to look at it all the time anymore, so I looked around during the reading and sometimes saw the faces of the people in the first rows of tables. I could tell that they were feeling the impact of the work. One of the young women at a table near the front to my right seemed especially taken with the work, and even much later after I was done I noticed that she was still looking at me almost as though I were still on the stage. The applause afterward was very warm and enthused.

After it was all over, i.e. after the last reader was done, a lot of people complimented me on the reading of the work, and several asked some questions. One friend there, a friend who had heard this probably more than anyone else in the last five years, said she was very proud of me. That was nice to hear.

There are some things that nothing can take away. There are moments when you really touch people with your art, and something profound happens.

Then, later, of course, other sorts of things made me feel very terrible for a night and a day, but I remembered some thing that Mingyur Rinpoche had said about meditation, i.e. that things we think of as “bad” are often great supports for meditation if used the right way, and that this practice would remove the power of the “bad” things, the hurtful messages that we hear from people over and over, those injuring words that become part of the script of our lives when we believe them.

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