I noticed the signs first. Then I noticed the Poet Donald Green.
His signs were scattered all over the Broadway Lafayette Subway station. Small, large, black & white and in color they all carried a variation on the same message. New York Times published poet sells his poems.
They signs made me pause, then I saw the man and I stopped.
It takes a lot to make a subway rider stop. Especially when it’s 10 o’clock on a freezing night during the coldest month of this century, and the subway rider is a tired Bronx expatriate living in New Jersey with at least an hour more to go in his journey home. Something about the man made me turn back and approach him. Whether it was the kinship of a fellow writer trying to get someone to read his words, or something deeper I couldn’t tell you.
The Poet looked tired. I imagined he’d been standing in the same spot for hours and the day was taking its toll. His eyes were closed and as I approached, he swayed slightly on his feet, trying to keep awake. I began to speak but as I drew closer, his eyes popped open.
Honestly, he looked homeless. His outfit was a mishmash of pieces. Long dark coat over what looked to be several layers, combined with a large winter hat tilted slightly askew, and a loud New York Rangers scarf. His hands were dirty and his nails long and unkempt. The Poet’s smile was bright and sincere despite his bad teeth and filtered as it was through a scraggly beard. For a second I rethought my decisions, and then the Poet spoke.
The first time I heard Maya Angelou speak, I was a teenager and knew nothing of poetry besides dirty limericks and Dr. Seuss. Then, our literature teacher rolled in the AV cart and put in a tape of Maya Angelou reading her poems. I remember being entranced, not so much by the poems, but by the beautiful running water that was her voice. She began slowly, then the words would lift then go back down again. She lengthened words that were born short and so her sentences seemed to go on forever, beautifully.
And so it was with the Poet. He closed his eyes when he spoke and he raised his hands and moved them in time with hiswords. His voice belied his appearance; it had a culture about it, a class. Born in Harlem, but raised in the Ivy Leagues. And his words, like Ms. Angelou’s were like clean water over rocks.
We stood in the subway station as trains came and went and New Yorkers passed us by, on the way home, or out and about for the night. We spoke of writing and its challenges, he told me of his early life, his encounter with the late E. Lynn Harris and other literary greats. We spoke as two Black men who try to reach others with words. My purchase of two of his books earned me my own poem and I watched as the Poet wrote it with a Sharpie, reciting it as he did.
“…you find your way
and grace our world with luminous novels
and God takes care of the rest…”
When he was done we shook hands and he thanked me profusely for the ten dollars I had spent but honestly, I know I got the better part of the deal.
Good luck, Poet.