when people ask me what I do, I don’t hesitate to tell them that I am a performer. They automatically get excited. “Do you sing?” they ask. I ignore the obvious sexism associated with the question and reply, “Sometimes. I’m a poet. I perform Spoken Word.” After this statement is made, one of two things happens: either a) their interest is peaked and they straighten their shirts, lean in, and nod their heads in anticipation of the details, or b) their lights dim and the drink rises to their lips as they try to disguise disappointment and/or confusion. From the latter, I then, normally, receive the following question, “But I thought you said you went on tour during the summer. Aren’t poets like always poor?” And, of course, I laugh.
I am poor. I literally did a jig in my bedroom one Thursday night to celebrate the fact that I had just been able to make ten whole American dollars buy me a week’s worth of groceries at the local market. I’ve officially stopped using lotion for my ashy elbows and now use the olive oil for both my cooking and my facials. I order water at the bar and have begun to perfect the art of telling the truth about why I’m not exactly pitching in for so-and-so’s gift. I sold my laptop to pay a couple of bills. Recently, a homeless guy gave me the finger on Sixth Street in Austin (true story) because I said I didn’t have any extra cash on me. Yeah, I would say I’m pretty broke.
But go ahead and ask me about last summer. I’ll tell you about how the “broke” poet made several immediate dreams come true, with just her words and her gall. Come on, really, let’s have a conversation about Chicago. I met Marc Smith—the founder/creator of Poetry Slam—the night I featured at the historical Green Mill in downtown Chi-town and he remembered my name. Or what about Atlanta? I literally watched hundreds of poets gather in an abandoned warehouse, light candles, and pay respects to a community pillar who had been murdered a few weeks before in Philly. I’ll tell you all about my city-crush Albuquerque and my city-crush Taos. I found god in the mountains, and I loved her. I loved her deeply. We can even get into a debate about which city is worst: Detroit or Indianapolis? I’ll tell you how to get anywhere you want on the Red Line if you’re in D.C. and even let you know about my favorite spot to eat in Boston.
If you’re a good listener, I’ll start off with the beginning and get into how I sold everything I owned at the time (about seven hundred dollars worth of stuff), bought a Greyhound ticket and made it from San Marcos, TX, to New York, NY, and back. Combining the tips I made performing at various venues with CD sales and the very welcomed donations of several individuals, I happily traveled via Greyhound across parts of the Southwest, Midwest, and East Coast in just three months.
Twenty-three cities and a lifetime later, I returned to San Marcos and prepared for classes. But suddenly, everything looked different. I walk past a mirror nowadays, glance at the woman there and wonder, what really happened out on the road? It seems I came back half a suitcase lighter, with a savvy new haircut, a new tattoo, and some ancestral tarot cards. But I came back fundamentally changed. The things I had worried about so much seem to have been eliminated from my priority list. Things like fancy clothes, brand new books, and even schmoozing with the cool cats at the too-expensive-for-me local restaurant all seem to matter just a little bit less.
Lately, I can’t help but stare at clocks and wonder what Jugh Jeffner might be doing right now. But hey, don’t worry about it. He’s just some guy I met in Columbus. The stage name’s real, the story’s hilarious, and the fact that I didn’t end up in jail, again, that night, is a relief. Maybe I’ll tell you all about it one day when we meet up for refreshing aguas on da rocks.
I mean these are the things I think about when people tell me poets are always broke. I think to myself, “You don’t even know the half of it.”