Monday 9 July 2018

The Poetry Slam and the Peas

by Nora Nadjarian

still water 

            It’s nervewracking. All that rehearsing in my head before getting up on stage to speak, or perform. They call it performance. There’s a lot of shouting at slams, a lot of cocking one’s head to one side and humming or saying some incomprehensible thing and waiting for applause and loving it, even if you don’t admit that you love it, when you get the applause. I’ve been going to slams for years and not winning. Yoni, on the other hand, is good. Yoni has stage presence. Yoni says you can say anything you want to, as long as you have presence.  People don’t really care what you say, he says, as long as you have presence. I think I’m too short to even pretend that I have that, but anyway… Standing on stage is a bit like being seasick for me, I feel like the boards are swaying from side to side and I’m about to fall, so I hold on to… maybe the words. Maybe my inner self. Something. So I’ve never even come close to winning, except that time with the peas.
            But let me first tell you a bit about Yoni. Yoni comes from a family of artists. His mother paints. She has that look: you know, the calm, calm, I eat quinoa salads, do yoga and I paint and I produce ceramics look. She has blue eyes and pale skin and dark, curly, shoulder length hair. She wears long floral dresses and flat sandals, even on the coldest days. She took one look at me that day when Yoni introduced me as his girlfriend and she said “Ah”. But she didn’t really look at me. It was just a casual look, and I was sure she could just about make me out behind the mist of nothingness as Miss truly Nothing herself, sweet, but nothing, nonetheless. “Yonatan…” she said, “…the two of you can help yourself to stuff in the fridge...” I wasn’t sure what to make of that but Yonatan didn’t bat an eyelid. “We’re going out for dinner, later,” he said.
            His father is some sort of critic, he writes articles for an international magazine and he’s always in front of a screen: PC, laptop, mobile, and plays hide and seek with the world in general, using his eyes, when he looks up, then down, then up, then down again. When I was introduced to him for the first time, he took off his reading glasses, looked up at me, smiled politely, then put his reading glasses back on, looked down again and carried on typing. Yoni apologises for his parents, he says I shouldn’t take them seriously, because he doesn’t. I’m a Jewish only son, he says, I twist them round my little finger. What they suffer from is apathy. What they live in is a parallel world to our own. No, no, don’t take them seriously, he says, they don’t deserve it.
            So then: back to the slam and the peas. It was one of those days. I was not exactly feeling perky. It’s all in the mind, said Yoni. I had no idea what he was talking about, but, frankly, they had started irritating me, all these “I know everything about you but you don’t know anything about yourself” spiels of his. I took them all personally anyway. This time round, maybe it was the PMT or something, and I heard myself blurting out: Shut the fuck up, Yoni! Just shut up! You have no idea what it’s like!
            I have no idea what what’s like?
            Never to win! I screamed. Never to win! I haven’t been able to win your parents over, I haven’t won a poetry slam, I haven’t won the lottery, I haven’t won a single fucking thing in my life! Do you know what that’s like? I feel like a loser all the time! Do you know what losing means, Yoni? Fuck!
            Silence. Yoni said nothing. Absolutely nothing for a few minutes. Then he started clapping.
            Great performance, he said. That’s how you should perform at slams. Scream and shout and stamp your feet and kick an invisible arsehole who’s blocking you from the view of the small sample of the world sitting and watching you. Just be yourself, you know?
            So, the rest of this story is about the peas. The idea came to me when I read an article about an artificial insemination clinic that fucked up and destroyed all the eggs and sperm and things in the fridge due to human error. One minute they were there, extracted patiently from each and every patient, donor, woman, man, vagina and penis, and next minute they were no use to anyone at all and were simply binned.
            Just think, I thought, as I took out the frozen peas from my freezer. Just think, what those frozen eggs and sperm might have become. Those translucent spheres and white semen together forever in the creation of… humankind. A genius might have come to be, I thought, as I tore the frozen plastic bag stuck onto the frozen peas … and some of the peas started falling one after the other like little green pearls from a broken necklace. They fell and thawed and rolled around the floor in their own little droplets of water and finally stood still. 
            I stood in the middle of it all and took a deep breath. I knew exactly what life was all about now. Everything in life is a kind of performance. I kept it a secret from Yoni, until the day I announced to him that he and I were pregnant. I feel seasick, I said, the floorboards are moving. But I know this is going to be my winning performance.

 About the author

Nora Nadjarian comes from Cyprus. She has had poetry and short stories published internationally. She has won prizes in international competitions, including the Commonwealth Short Story Competition. Her work was included in Best European Fiction 2011 (Dalkey Archive Press) and Being Human (Bloodaxe Books, 2011).
Find her on and on Twitter: @NoraNadj

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