I paid $10 to this burly man, and passed through a metal door set in a wall. I was in Nuyorican Poets Cafe. It was dimly lit, a loft, or more like a garage-turned-gallery. A small bar stood almost immediately to the right of the entrance. Pepe tended the bar that night, and lent me a pen when I needed one later. He also came to my table to ask for the pen back, when I forgot my promise to return it. A glass of red wine cost $4.
I was here because a beautiful plump Mexican girl handed me a slip of paper at Cornelia Street Cafe last Friday, and asked me to read here on Sunday night. The slip gave the details of the open mic, Poetry in Any Language.
Ricardo emceed and signed me on as a reader. A girl on stage was reading something in French. She was very dramatic; I didn't understand a word she said. Then she read a second piece which she prefaced by saying that it was a story about a rape. During that reading, she kept forming a triangle with her hands around her crotch. Each time she did that, an old man hurrahed from the bar. I learnt later that he was the founder and owner of the cafe.
The only other Asian in the room was a Japanese. We spoke during the break, in English. She came to NYC as a student, got married here, and then stayed. After the break, she read a haiku from her sister's poetry collection; I didn't understand a word she said.
Most of the other readers read in Spanish. A couple of the younger Latinos, and the beautiful Latino girl whose name was Maria, read two poems, one in Spanish, the other in English; a boy with a mop of black curls read as his second poem a Bukowski, about a torn shoelace. The old ones outnumbered the young. The young ones were excited, flushed, eager for attention and praise. The old ones were eager for praise too, but they read as themselves. One woman read with such pleasure that it did not matter I didn't understand a word she said.
In the first round, I read "Cheeks" and "Fingernails." They liked them a lot, and applauded very warmly. After the break, I read "Brother" and "Supper at le Monde." The applause was noticeably cooler. After hearing a young Latino play his guitar and sing his poem, I left the cafe. Pepe was sitting on a water hydrant just outside, smoking. He smiled and said good-bye too.