How Do You Write in Public

by Colleen Rothman

It’s too loud here; I can’t hear the words in my head over the 90s R&B. Are you that somebody? Every song plays at a different volume; the barista who side-gigs as a sub at my son’s school keeps adjusting it between lattes. My heart starts beating triple time. I recognize folks from other weekday afternoons, when I’ve grown tired of being alone in my home, bored with myself and the stories my mind has invented. Strumming my pain with his fingers. Behind a fiddle-leaf fig, two men meet; over bowed screens not fully closed, they dissect their respective wheelhouses. You’re crushing it, one says. Instantly, I feel the weight of the other pinning me to a mattress, air leaving my lungs as the first guy eggs him on. Only those who have power can be so careless with language. Ah, there it is—the voice I thought I’d lost. It rises from the background sounds now swirling together, no single strain perceptible above the rest, unlike other days spent eavesdropping here on halves of conference calls, a gaggle of rolling suitcases, an informational interview between a burlesque dancer and an aspiring one employed at a suburban Hooters. I can focus on this over-cinnamoned chai burning the back of my throat, the dull pencil slipping through my fingers—rookie mistake, I forgot a pen—this notebook, four unfilled pages remaining. I started it new in June, before we stopped not talking again. Oh, I had plenty to say, unrelated to you, in those long months. Several sentences, for example, describing a pâté tartine. Thumbnail book reviews. A skeleton draft of a listicle.

Colleen Rothman’s poems have appeared, or will soon, in Yes Poetry, Juke Joint, All Female Menu, and ANTIGRAVITY Magazine. She lives in New Orleans. Learn more at colleenrothman.com .

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