Eileen and Rodney

The wind gusts loud as the ragtag garage band playing across Boyd Plaza. Though the First Thursday crowd is out up and down Main, a thin thread of nerves still strings itself through each pod of people. The day before USC cancelled all classes after 1pm due to severe storms and tornado warnings; two inches of rain had fallen in an hour and there were hail reports in some parts of town; Calhoun County confirmed EF-2 touchdowns. Though watchful from Wednesday, all seem relaxed and glad that we have resumed a sense of normalcy. There’s live music at Michael’s, though the musicians there and elsewhere play indoors today.

When Rodney and Eileen first clasp hands, trying different configurations to find what’s most comfortable, I notice there are no barriers. Each is open. Each is glad to be here. Though Rodney is still relaxing into the experience from his frantic arrival rush from work, he slides effortlessly into the emotional space we have all come here to enter. Kara cups her hands to spoon the rubbery mix over the two stranger’s hands. Eileen swoons its creamy raspberry color. Every stage of this process is tactile, intimate. The hand-holding table is a kind of Venn diagram convergence of mingling personal space bubbles, and our shared space is electric.

Rodney’s fingers extend nearly one quarter the length of Eileen’s forearm for the first hand-clasp configuration. These two Sagittarian poets, meeting for the first time, though sun and temp are dropping, settle easily into the approaching 45 minutes. We three chat briefly, breezily, and Rodney asks if the interview has already begun. I’d prepared questions, but being at home in porous interpersonal spaces I figured it all began after we’d all helloed. As we get lost in the kismet confab, digital devices squirrelled in pockets, a buzz brews on news networks and in the Twitterverse about a possible storm of another stripe 6,200 miles away.

One might not think of hand casting—the pouring of molds, the snapping of photos, the interviewing of once-were-strangers, this collaboration of citizens and artists—as work, but to bring together a discharged-next-year airman hailing from D.C. and a woman from small-town Wisconsin with a son the same age as her casting partner is gravely important work. This is real community-building in a human soil where each have worked to plant themselves. This, the antithesis of 59 Tomahawk missiles heading for Shayrat Airfield near Homs, Syria. This, our unknowing answer to obliterated chemical weapons depots, cratered radar, collateral civilians one quarter world away.

When I ask about the places where Eileen and Rodney each feel most at home in themselves, neither speaks of geographic spaces. Rodney resonates truest to himself onstage, dropping poem bombs on a large crowd—half-facilitating, half-engineering a night’s emotional arc. Eileen says she’s most at home in any crowd of two or more where conversation crackles with art—written or musical or visual or other—where community buzzes with the unexpected exchange of what pleases each person most. When pressed for a point on the globe, she says any island in the Greek archipelago, high enough to see mostly sea.

In the Mediterranean, not far from Eileen’s beloved Aegean blue, another pair of bodies reach out across water and desert with 59 fingers—likely killing some, it’s said, to save others. This violent volley, exploding first with light over US destroyers—Burke and Porter—traces the estranging desert expanse to intended targets visible only via satellite and radar. Though separated by the table’s dry expanse, Rodney and Eileen are connected in a way they feel, but cannot see. They count acquaintances and friends they’d not known they shared, Rodney shivering but weathering the sub-60 temp, our conversation drifting past the moment the mold is completely set, their warm hands invisibly but tangibly joined—two palms exposed one to the other, fingers laced over radial arteries and reading the legible pulse of the other.

–Scott Chalupa

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