Nathan Graziano

Open Mic Night at The Jarva Café

Lewis arrives early at The Jarva Café so he can secure a table in close proximity to the open-mic sign-up list, manned by the poet James C. Hoffman, host of The Northboro Gathering of Words. The list opens at six p.m., sharp, and the open-mic reading begins promptly at six-thirty p.m. Lewis, a substitute teacher at Northboro High School, has been attending the open-mic night for three months since Lydia, his ex-wife, moved out of their house and took up with Andre Whittaker, the pianist and namesake of The Andre Whittaker Jazz Trio—who play Dave Brubeck covers on Thursday nights at La Carreta’s, a Mexican restaurant in downtown Northboro. Lewis has been writing poems since his days attending Northboro Community College, quietly jotting down his verse with a quill into a cork-covered notebook. He was reluctant to share his verse with others since the horrible incident with Lydia. 

     One night, after multiple margaritas at La Carreta’s, Lewis shared a few of his lighter pieces with Lydia. Upon reading Lewis’ poems, Lydia shot him a look like he’d grown a beak. A month later, she was moving out of their house and moving in with Andre Whittaker in a flat in the refurbished mills in downtown Northboro.

     The poet James C. Hoffman is now sitting with his paramour Wendy Devoe at the sign-up table in back of the café and he clears his throat, stroking his graying beard as the wall clock strikes six. “The open-mic sign-up list is now…open,” he says and hands the pen to Wendy Devoe like he is presenting her with a sword. 

     Wendy Devoe has been an insufferable snob since having a poem accepted in The Northboro Review, a detail she never fails to mention every time she reads it. With straight black hair and her reading glasses—which she wears low on the bridge of her long, sloping on the end of her nose—and the sing-song poet-voice that sounds a like a kindergarten teacher reading to her class about kittens, Wendy Devoe has the swagger of the premier poet at The Northboro Gathering of Words. That is aside from the poet and venerable host James C. Harrison, who has a stack of self-published chapbook for sale beside the sign-up list, and for mere ten dollars, he’ll sign to you. 

     Lewis stands in the back of a small line of poets signing up to read, which includes a hipster college student in skinny jeans and a man-bun, a frumpy older woman named Gail who reads long odes to serial killers—her ode last month to Aileen Wuornos was undoubtedly her most graphic—and there’s a new guy with a bald dome and inky black hair pulled into a tight ponytail. When it is finally his turn to sign up, Lewis takes the pen and looks at the sheet for the available slots. 

     “Are you going reading tonight, Lewis?” the poet James C. Harrison asks him. 

     Lewis holds his cork-covered notebook tightly against his chest. “Tonight’s the night,” he says. “Tonight, I’m alive.”

     “I’m looking forward to it,” the poet James C. Harrison says and smiles.

     “Isn’t that exciting,” says Wendy Devoe, the competitive bitch. 

     The reading begins at exactly six-thirty p.m. The poet James C. Harrison welcomes a crowd of approximately a dozen people as an espresso machine roars to life in the background. There’s a wooden podium in front of picture window looking out on Main Street in downtown Northboro. The poet James C. Harrison begins by reading one of the poems from his chapbook, Amalgamations of the Abstract Mind—available for sale at his table for ten dollars—then gives the podium over to that haughty wench Wendy Devoe. 

     The bigamist Wendy Devoe stands behind the podium and theatrically scans the crowd as a small smile, as thin as a scribble, breaks from lips. She takes a deep breath and shuffles through the stack of papers she’s holding. “This first poem was accepted for publication in The Northboro Review,” she says and pauses so the crowd can take in her glory. “This is called ‘Fishing with My Grandfather, Point Judith, 1981’.”

    Wendy Devoe, the pretentious whore, reads for fifteen minutes, although the allotted time limit is five minutes, and when she finishes, she takes off her glasses, allowing them to dangle from the beaded glasses chain around her neck. She then presses her hands together in prayer and bows her head. “Namaste,” she says and walks back to the table to a smattering of applause. 

     The poet James C. Harrison steps back to the podium. “Thank you, Wendy. As always, your work is inspiring, transformative, thought-provoking and utterly sublime,” he says and pauses. “Our next poet is a new voice to The Northboro Gathering of Words. Please welcome The Seagull.”

     From restroom in the back, The Seagull appears running full speed toward the podium. He is now wearing a floral meal-sack dress and a gray wig with a bun in the back, his inky black ponytail poking out of the wig like a rodent’s tail. He slows then stands into front of the podium, breathing-heavy and carrying a paper bag. He places the bag on the ground in front of him and holds up his index finger as he catches his breath. “This poem is titled ‘Outtakes from Psycho’,” he says. 

     He reaches into the bag and places three items on the podium: a rubber butcher’s knife, a bottle of Heinz ketchup in a plastic squeezable container, and a white shower curtain. First, he grabs the shower curtain, shakes it out and holds it in front of him before abruptly dropping it. He takes the rubber knife and stabs at the air. He then drops the knife and grabs the ketchup bottle. While screaming, he squirts the ketchup all over his chest and torso then he runs out of The Jarva Café, leaving the crowd stunned. 

     Seconds later, the poet James C. Harrison points out the picture window in front of the shop. “Look!”

     Everyone huddles around the window and watches. Again, Lewis is clutching his cork covered notebook to his chest, knowing that it won’t be opened. Not tonight. No one can follow this performance. And they watch as The Seagull sprouts white, billowy wings from his shoulder blades and flies into the night sky, silhouetted by the moon. 

     And Wendy Devoe, that beautiful soul, weeps in her hands. 


Nathan Graziano plays lead guitar for “The Ghost Nipples”.