“Am I extraordinary?”
“How about exceptional?”
“Am I impressive?”
“Pushing the boundaries?”
“At the front of the pack?”
“Am I good?”
“Depends who you ask.”
There was a momentary silence between the man and woman at the café. The man felt for the pen in his pocket and twisted the cap on and off. He looked into his cappuccino and blew the steam away before it exited the rim of the mug. The woman stared at the man, waiting to lock eyes. The man lifted his head up.
“So what do you think I am?”
“No that can’t be,” he chuckled, “I have had success. It has been proven that I am certainly above average.”
“You’re not,” she leaned forward and shook her head, “They lied to you. You’re just as good as the rest of ‘em. You’re-”
“C’mon. I’m better than all the mush that’s being peddled out there.”
“Mush? You think the thousands of published poems this year were mush?” She sat back in her chair and crossed her arms.
“No. Well, I didn’t mean it like that.”
“That’s what you said.”
She broke their eye contact and gazed out the window.
“Did you read my last book?”
“Then you’d know it got incredible reviews. ‘Insightful! Precise! Vivid! Human!’ That’s what they said, not me.”
“It doesn’t matter what they called it. It’s not about the critics. The book was empty and atavistic. You know it and I know you know it. Don’t judge your work on what they say. They’d never denounce you in print.”
“Do you not realize what kind of a leap they would be taking to bash your work? They’re afraid!”
“Why would they be afraid?”
“Wow. Not even a hint of sarcasm in your voice. You know, I could imagine having this conversation with you fifteen years ago, but to be having it with you now, well, Christ!” she took a deep breath, “Is this really what you wanted to talk about?”
He looked down and stirred his cappuccino, “I wanted you to tell me that you liked it.”
She scoffed, “I could list a dozen things I’d rather do than pat you on the head. Stop by my office if your ego shrinks back to a healthy size.”
She got up and made her way out of the little coffee shop. The man was left alone with his cappuccino and his thoughts. He opened up his messenger bag and pulled out a notebook. He stared at it and reread his own words. He was puzzled, stunned even. All my other colleagues loved it. What could she have not liked? Is it not brilliant? Could she not relate? It is just as good, if not better, than what I have already published!
He placed his notebook under his arm and took a look around. There were two people seated near the corner of the establishment: an old man reading a newspaper, and a young woman typing away on a laptop. He got up and walked over to the woman.
“Excuse me, I really don’t mean to bother you, but I just finished this poem the other day and I was hoping that I could get a fresh set of eyes on it. Would you mind giving it a read?”
She put down her cup of coffee and studied the notebook for a few seconds. She flipped to the front of the book and saw the author’s name.
“You’re Jarrod Manivich!” she gripped the table with her left hand, “Mr. Manivich, Bees of Triumph was the piece that got me to write my first poem. I bought a journal. I wrote, wait, give me a moment,” she pulled a thin spiral notebook out of her backpack and flipped open the cover. “I wrote it here so whenever I need to remember why I write, I can reread it. I wanted to get it the first line tattooed on my foot but I thought that would be cheesy.” She giggled.
This did not move him.
“Yes, I wrote that many years ago. I’m glad it inspired you. But, would you mind telling me what you think of this one?”
She gave the page another once-over without looking at the second page.
“It’s beautiful. When is it getting published?
“I’m not sure yet. But really, what did you think? Did you like it?”
“Oh, it’s fabulous. I look forward to reading it in the New Yorker.” she smiled.
“Are you sure there is not anything you would change?”
“It’s perfect. I mean, you wrote it. How could it be anything less?”
He smiled, “Right. Thank you for your time, Miss.”
He headed back to his table and hunkered down into his chair. He saw the young woman glance at him while she typed on her phone. The man spoke to himself.
“I am extraordinary.”
–Art by Kaia Pieters