The Compliments That Stay With You

Yevgeny A. Yevtushenko After the killings in Blacksburg, Virginia in 2007, I ran into Fran Ringold, Oklahoma’s poet laureate (yeah, we have them), in a parking lot at the University of Tulsa. At the time, she was editing Nimrod International Journal, the university’s literary magazine. Would I, she wanted to know, come to a campus-wide memorial later that night and read one of my public radio essays?
 There were poets, Indian drummers on blankets, musicians, interpretative dancers performing that night. I not only felt out of place, I was. A microphone was set up and I read a piece about walking around the TU campus and seeing promise and opportunity, entitlement, innocence, arguments, people breaking up, tears, and how we were all connected to all of that, to every conversation, every word, every action, every building, every moment, every tragedy, including Blacksburg (and, for that matter, Bergen-Belsen) and concluded with something David Letterman, of all people, said after 9/11, how, even if you lived a thousand years, some tragedy still wouldn’t make any Goddamn sense. I finished reading and headed up the aisle of Chapman Theatre when a man, an old man I did not know, came bounding down to meet me. “You are poet!” he said.
 
 I wasn’t. But Yevgeny Yevtushenko called me one.

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