Personal Non-fiction Essay: St. John’s Dance

By Daniel Talamantes

It’s twenty minutes into this muni ride toward Haight Street in San Francisco and it just registered that I’m not heading toward Haight at all. Simultaneously, I also realized that the Joan Didion’s essay I’ve been reading is not on mortality, but morality. So, I’m about thirty some-odd blocks from where I’m supposed to be, evaluating how morality and mortality could be topics irreducible enough to be misconstrued, all while under the serious and unreasonable influence of caffeine.

Meanwhile, my friend Angel Dominguez, who has invited me to his reading at some renowned house venue called “Chicken Coup” in Haight (I hadn’t heard of till then), is stuck in traffic some miles away, running late, and not answering his phone.

I decide to step off the muni at a serene park that is probably a Bosch painting.

There’s a group of people dancing in the tennis court near an outdoor café where another group are sipping white wine with measured grace. There doesn’t appear to be any music playing, but it’s not hindering them in any way. Their bodies move in harmony, obedient to some secret rhythm.

The sound of rattling of paper directs me to an agitated flyer on a fence post promoting a silent disco in the tennis court. The flyer appears to be itching to join. I don’t have similar ambitions. Though, I guess I just anthropomorphized a flyer. Dream on…

Instead, I’m thinking about dancing mania in 14th and 17th century Europe. Was it a mass psychogenic illness induced by ergot poisoning? Or, was it staged by a pagan cult to subvert antediluvian methods of suppression? Perhaps both were effective in allaying the stresses of poverty. I suppose that’s where relatability falters, here.

And, this is all it takes. Within thirty minutes, I can’t get anywhere without the excessive urge to document the patterns, images, references, narratives, and emotions that accumulate. I embark through the cinematic matrix of the residential metropolis to find a café or bar or restaurant or whatever venue to accommodate the need to cathect onto a page, any page, any surface with a writing utensil, that I can keep.

The Jericho Fellowship Prizes 2019 (Awards: £32,000 + an all-expense paid trip to a symposium) / How To Apply

 

Even at work, twenty stories up into the seemingly uninhabitable climate of the finance district skyscraper, I can’t go twenty minutes without trying to sneak in a paragraph or two when I sense the supervisors are looking away. At this point, everyone’s privy to it. In the editor’s newsroom, you can hear my fingers typing away like some tap-dancer in a library.

The alteration between Victorian to modern architecture hints toward the volatility of the ground beneath; the ground which vibrates that rhizomatic thread within me. Now I’m thinking about how maybe the best, or most notable portrayal of San Francisco was in Beat Literature and how they were so compelled by the spiritualism of rhizome. I was feeling the tug of those roots as well. I wanted the hydration they offered to sprout new ideas and expressions of the city. I just need to plant myself somewhere so I can write and think.

Every bar or café I peak into contains a cumbersome amount of socialites. I just need a quiet and small patch of allegorical real estate. Like this city, I’ve loaned out my allegorical property to this capital world. I reserve the dimmer, poetic, and wooden corners; the alcoves and glades; the Cliffside views in me for the creative and humanistic expression, thought, and gaze. Sometimes, there’s an imperial notion in me to obtain more acreage for my creativity to roam. I want the great wide open. But, that soon requires cultivation and, by effect, economization. My spirit is a never-ending flex of creative vs. survival needs. It’s the dreamer’s polemic.

So, even with all the ideas brimming, I summit a hill and walk toward the meet-up location. Once I reach that area I’ll be able to put it all down. To put it all down?…as if there’s a violence to it. Are all my creative thoughts at the firing line? Maybe I meant for them to be seeds cast into fertile fields.

On the hill, a collection of people are performing Tai chi. It’s almost like they’re offering the expanse of the bay. Beneath an overcast sky, their slow-motion aerobics are tangential to the amoebic tides of fog. A brisk wind launches my clothes behind me as a parachute deployed. Humidity causes nose leakage. My throat dries. Flights of pigeons awaken from an aspen tree and murmur over a gothic spire.

My fingers are twitching at my side as if I’m in a spaghetti western and the Sheriff’s approaching. My lip twitches. I draw a pen, the sheriff draws a notepad, and I scribe it down. Queue tumbleweed.

Maybe I’ll dictate to my phone and transcribe it later. But, I’d have to share my thoughts with the public at too early a stage.

 

Eventually, I make it to our meet-up location. I walk past a pub called Finnegan’s Wake once as if it wasn’t the obvious choice. Standing in the entry to the pub, my stomach groans.

I buy a sandwich from the health food store across the street and offer the second half to an older man. He rejects it with the wave of a hand. While taking a seat, I notice he’s pretty well dressed but awfully confused. He’s just staring. He’s not homeless, just senile. Still, who couldn’t use a sandwich?

Angel calls and we meet at Finnegan’s Wake after he checks in He has a few writing friends with him. One’s a professor and poet from San Jose, one is attending NYU, and one went to Naropa with him. The fourth is a politics student. As it goes for writers, we all zero in on him.

One writer: “What genre of politics do you study?”

Politics student: “International.”

Another writer: “What genre?”

Politics student: “Latin American.”

Another writer: “What genre?”

Politics student: “Revolutionary.”

Another writer: “What genre?”

Another writer: “Genre and gender share the same etymology. They’re derivative terms employed by the patriarchy.”

Another writer: “So, I already created friction with the gringo writer from Wisconsin. Her manuscript is called Under-Privileged. She was wearing a shirt with chipmunks on it. Chipmunks.”

Another writer: “I commiserate the plight of a chipmunk.”

Politics student to another writer: “So what do you do?”

The other writer: “I don’t really do anything. I can barely say that I can do anything.”

Another writer: “Sounds exactly like a writer.”

Three beers in, we walk to the venue which is a small apartment above a sandwich shop. We climb up a flight of wooden stairs to an old Victorian living room, immediately bumping shoulders with the ten people there. We escape to the kitchen to find what’s left of the wall space to be occupied. You can tell you’re at a reading if the room is lined with wallflowers.

Photo by Eliabe Costa on Unsplash

The reading starts with a writer from some upper-middle-class area somewhere in the East Coast. They’re trembling and incredibly nervous.  Halfway through a patient and honest account/confession of their inherited wealth, they start talking about their belt. It’s too tight and they might faint, they admit. But, with everyone rallying behind them, they go on to finish.

Next is Angel. He pays a thoughtful and endearing tribute to Kevin Killian who passed a few days prior. He then launches into his erudite, rhythmic, refined, and a densely poetic section of his manuscript on the recuperation of his ancestral, spiritual relationship with Yucatan. A divide develops in the crowd. The range of reaction is always noteworthy, but facile to be fair. The dynamics, nuances, and complexities are always impossible to judge.

Angel finishes and garners two clear fans. They each purchase one of his manuscripts. But, he seems preoccupied with some other critical thought. He never voices it, but our positive feedback doesn’t compute. Either the audience reaction or something about his delivery or content governs his attention. Which is normal. I don’t pry.

I leave shortly after giving my regards to Angel. I find myself standing outside trying to figure out how to get back to BART. The lights of the city, the speckled satellites, are beatitude in uniform. They’re rhizomatic buds on the darkened soil.

The world slows again. I look up at the Bayview window of the house venue. What a strange room. What a strange dance. It’s mania.

Then, I wonder, what would compel a group of people to behave this way? Was it a mass psychogenic illness induced by ergot poisoning? Or, was it staged by a pagan cult to subvert antediluvian methods of suppression?

I find a quiet cafe nearby. It closes in an hour. Should be enough time to put it down.

 

BIO: Daniel Talamantes is  a 29-year-old writer, editor, journalist, and musician from San Francisco, California, 2015 graduate of National University of Ireland’s MA Writing Program, and 2012 graduate of the University of California at Santa Cruz’s Literature and Creative Writing Program.

An excerpt of his novel, Falla, can be found in the December 2017 issue of The Write Launch. His short stories and poems have been published in Cathexis, the Alexandria Anthology, The Galway Review, Tract-Trace, Skylight-47, Elderly, and various others.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

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