A Certain Rainy Day
Zia Jaffrey

They had come, because S. knew B.B., who was reading at B&N. It was a certain rainy day, and one could say, people were in the mood for poetry. There were those who had come early, found their chairs, but next to Q., there seemed to be a chair always half empty, as though for the unexpected listener. First, a young man sat there, reading a money magazine, who left just as the poet began; then a young woman, who collapsed over a small sheet of paper, on which she scribbled madly, then left in the middle of the reading. And finally, there came an old man, ragged, in dated jeans, splattered with fading colors, who sat quietly, in his navy pea jacket. How nice, thought Q. quietly, that this person, who looked like a Polish peasant, with red worker’s hands, can sit here and enjoy poetry. She wondered what he might be thinking of B.B., as B.B. mumbled something about J.M. having died, about celebrating formal poetry, and about a friend whose poems he would now read because she had not published in her lifetime. The poems, however, evoked nothing in particular, verged precariously on clichés, made one think of a general disengagement from life; was it worse that B.B. eulogized his friend’s tepid poetry, that he himself had read the history of ideas poorly and could hardly write, and yet seemed to be a member of a gang of TS’s and James’ and Wystans? The poems drifted on, separated from anything in particular.

Q. turned to the old man. Still there, but now, gently dozing, his chin in his neck.

He, however, stayed till the end. And when their eyes met, he said, “It’s a pity. Poetry didn’t used to be like this. He called this ‘formal,’ but I didn’t hear any rhythm or any rhyme. See, poetry has to have cadence. Maybe if one read these to oneself, one could find the internal rhythms. But I doubt it. It’s a pity. There used to be a time when poetry was really something.” He shook his head gently. Q. had misjudged him, and felt ashamed; though his sleep, which had drawn Q., had been true enough.


Zia Jaffrey is the author of The Invisibles: A Tale of the Eunuchs of India (Panthon/Vintage), and is currently finishing a book on South Africa’s AIDS epidemic. She has written cover stories, features and reviews for numerous publications, including the New York Times, the Nation, Mother Jones, the Progressive, the Washington Post, Vogue, and Harper’s Bazaar, among others. She was formerly senior contributing editor at Elle Magazine. She earned her BA from Barnard College and studied in the MFA program for fiction at Columbia University.

A Certain Rainy Day / Zia Jaffrey

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