I was third in line. Third! I'm never third in line at the signings for Library of Congress readings--I always get waylaid by a friend, or a glass of wine, or those perfect baby carrots they serve with the fresh fringed tops. But this time, there I was, in front of W.S. Merwin while the official cameras were still clicking away. I introduced myself, and as I said my last name his eyes brightened.
"Yes," he said. "Sandra Beasley. I've read your poems."
I was the one thing I never am: speechless. I shyly handed him my copy of The Folding Cliffs, which he read from tonight. I stuttered out a few sentences about the time I'd spent on Maui, on Kauai, the importance of telling the stories that live in Hawaii's soil. I thanked him. "We are so lucky to have you here," I said, and I'm not sure if I meant tonight, or in DC, or on this earth--probably all three.
He signed it to me by name, with all good wishes, and dated it. Looking at what he'd written, he said, "That can't be right. It's the 24th, surely," and then he added a 2 before the May date.
For few seconds I stayed quiet, not wanting to embarrass him. Then I imagined the embarrassment that would accumulate if he signed everyone's book that way.
"Um," I said, "it IS the fourth. You just transported us forward in time by 20 days."
Gesturing at the line that stretched behind me, I said, "But you can't. We need all the days we can get."
The 83-year-old poet looked up at me and smiled. "Indeed," he said.