772: On Friendship

772: On Friendship

772: On Friendship


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

I can be terrible at answering the phone. In fact, I answer the phone so infrequently that when I manage to call a friend, I’m often accused of frightening them…as something is sure to be wrong if I call instead of texting. I can become a hermit too. I close myself in sometimes and can be alone for not just hours but days, weeks even. And so when a friend does try to reach out or stop by or offer an invitation, I can hesitate at times. But I’ve learned throughout my life that every time I say yes to seeing a friend, to a small moment of pleasure, I am better for it. But sometimes those moments come more serendipitously.

When I lived in Brooklyn, I remember running into my friend Kaelea on my way home from the gym and instead of going our separate ways, we went for a quick drink to catch up. Then on the way home from that drink, we stumbled across a live concert in an abandoned public pool by famed Texas-based R&B performer Archie Bell. He was singing “Tighten Up” with his full backup band and it sounded so good we could hardly believe it. We still have trouble believing it happened.

Suddenly we were dancing and laughing and it felt like there was nothing better than this moment, to be alive on a summer Sunday in Brooklyn with a friend dancing by your side and beer in your hand and some legendary R&B band performing live right in front of you. And what if I had gone home? Stuck to my routine or begged off to be more alone and more in the shadows as I wrote my solemn poems and cut my vegetables for some simple meal? I wouldn’t have been unhappy, surely, but it wouldn’t have been this, this true elation of unexpected music, this dancing on the concrete dance floor while the moon was rising and life was full of possibilities.

Today’s poem honors those simple and unexpected moments where you lean into each other and something delightful happens.

On Friendship
by Hagit Grossman, translated from the Hebrew by Benjamin Balint

If a friend calls out to you late at night from beneath your window
Never send him on his way. And if you’ve sent him away and still
Insist on rigid rules, regain your composure after a moment
And run to the window and shout his name: “Come, Merhav!
Come back! I’ve got some corn cooking! Come eat something.”
And he’ll placidly retrace his steps and gladly accept
The key you toss down from your window,
Will come upstairs to the first floor and will be impressed
By the large pictures on the walls.
He’ll sit and wait for you to slip into a clean shirt and you’ll put on
The movie in the kid’s room and your baby daughter 
Will rush to the kitchen and come back with a red pepper for him.
He’ll decline the warm corn and say he’s already had dinner.
In the meantime your husband will chat with him about Tai Chi
And pour him a glass of cold sweet pineapple juice.
You’ll return to the living room
And go out to the balcony and light a cigarette and sip
A cold beer. You don’t yet realize 
That this is a sublime moment in your life.
One of the most sublime you’ll ever know.

"On Friendship" by Hagit Grossman, translated from the Hebrew by Benjamin Balint, from TREMBLING OF THE CITY copyright © 2016 Hagit Grossman. Used by permission of the poet.