Jonathan Montgomery was born in 1980 in Akron, Ohio. He's a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and Naropa University. His books include Pizzas and Mermaid, Taxis & Shit, and The Reality Traveler. He lives in Boulder, Colorado and teaches college English.
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Poets, Poems, and Poetry- by Jonathan Montgomery
I usta drive cab for a living, and one good part was I got to meet people who had jobs I didn’t know anything about. Like lawyer.
One night a lawyer got in my cab, and he was hammered. Someone hadta help him in the door, they hadta plop him down flat on the backseat, and then they hadta tell me where to drop him off.
At first I thought he was just another puke-threat drunk, but then in the middle of the ride he suddenly popped up and said, “Hey… I’m an attorney.”
He handed me his card, and it had the scales of justice on it, and his credentials, and contact info.
“If you ever need legal assistance,” he said, “call me.”
“Thanks,” I said, “but I don’t make money.”
“Cuz I appreciate your line of work.”
“I know what you’re thinking… and I am an alcoholic… but only to cope with the stress of my job. I’m always sober in the courtroom. In the courtroom… I’m a wolverine.”
I liked the sound of that and made sure to keep the card.
Not too long later I got pulled over for running thru a red light even tho I didn’t. It was gonna cost $100. Shit, I thought, poverty and principles are gonna make me hafta fight this thing.
I wanted something ferocious to defend me, so I dug out the lawyer’s card and called the number. I left a message that The Cab Driver needed to get out of a jam.
I heard nothing for a couple days and called again. And then I still heard nothing.
I didn’t know what to do, and I mentioned the situation to the poets at the open mic that week.
“You don’t need a lawyer,” one poet said.
He was a guy who’d been in his fair share of legal trouble and even prison. He wasn’t bad; it was just that poets can’t easily fit into society.
“Here’s what you do,” he said. “You go to court, and when they ask you what happened you look them in the eye and say, ‘I didn’t do it.”
“That’s all?” I asked.
“Yup. The burden of proof is on them.”
I took the poet’s legal advice, and he was right. A lawyer, a cop, and a judge all looked at me very suspiciously in the courtroom that day, but none of them could prove I was guilty of driving thru a red light. And then I owed them $000.
As someone who currently teaches for a living I’m always aware of the threat of a mass shooter. For every location on campus I hafta imagine an escape plan.
In some locations I clearly see a door and run towards it, and I’m so amazed at my speed.
In some locations I’m able to find a perfect hiding place, somewhere very dark, behind something very thick.
In some locations I lay on the ground, pretend they’ve already got me, and pray.
In other locations I fight back with my fists and adrenaline, and I’m a hero who dies.
My favorite location is where I stand face-to-face with the shooter, draw a poem, aim it at them, and fire. The poem uses tremendous metaphors and flows with an undeniable rhythm. The syllables sound like music and the imagery is clear and relatable. And it has just the right amount of ambiguity that one can interpret it however they need. The shooter interprets it as meaning everything will finally be alright now and decides not to shoot me or anyone else with their gun.
Sometimes I’m a poet for a living…
I’ve had bartenders comp me a drink after a good reading.
One time I performed in a tutu and a woman stuck $10 down the front.
I can sell a couple chapbooks during the release party.
But I don’t expect much more than that.
Recently I surprisingly had someone pay me $500 for one poem.
He’s a guy who has his own company, digs my work, and wants to live in a world in which poets make money too. I would’ve given him the poem for nothing, but I didn’t resist the offer.
He cut me a check and the 500 went straight into my bank account and blended with all the other money in there. There was no way to tell which was the poetry money and which was the other.
But I pretended anyway. And for the next $500 spent I imagined those goods and services were exchanged directly for the poetry.
The insights of my heart for vending machine peanut M&M’s
Linebreaks for gas
Hyperbole for new Gold Toe dress socks
Irony for 24 pack of Charmin Ultra
Alliteration for barista tip
Rhymes for pen recycled from plastic bottles
Wordplay for sales tax
Cadence for Audubon stuffed animal birds with real sound
Emotional courage for Domino’s large pineapple-pepperoni pizza and 20oz Fanta
The title for Capital One credit card interest
The last line for late fees
The linguistic expression of my soul unfolded, smoothed, and fed into change machine for laundry quarters
It all felt good.
And it made poets, poems, and poetry seem really powerful for another brief moment.