I have been watching this performance from the Tony Awards, Sydney Lucas singing “Ring of Keys,” on repeat. It is sitting in my heart, growing bigger and rooting deeper, with each play. I watch it and I cry, and my breath seems pointless because I basically hold my breath from the start until she sings “Why am I the only one who sees you’re beautiful… no. I mean handsome.” Her face is so brilliantly emotive, it too grows bigger and roots deeper throughout the song.
Why am I basically obsessing over this piece of music? Why does it evoke a feeling in me that is a sweetly intoxicating mixture of nostalgia, loneliness, warmth and gratitude?
I remember wanting a community desperately when I was young. I’ve spoken about my fear of being alone, but beyond that, I never felt I fit in anywhere until much later in life. Even in college, when I was surrounded by people all the time, I never felt really connected with them. It was easier for me to make one on one connections with people, but it would often wind up that the people I felt connected to would pull away, or things would change, or someone would move. There was always a distance after time – even with my best friend from college, Renee, there’s a distance – we live 1100 miles apart. And when you live that far apart, there’s a distance emotionally as well as physically, even though you don’t want it to be there. You love, but you can’t always understand.
I have wanted so much to be a part of a community, I’ve floated into communities, but until poetry, none of them stuck for good. I sing, and I love to express myself by singing. But it’s difficult for me to feel entirely connected to performing as I get shy, especially with my blind eye, and get afraid to perform. I mean, I’ve been in many, many theatrical performances. I like to act. But there’s a disconnect there. I like to speak and to speak out, and I feel like poetry gives me that. I like work communities, the friendships you build at your place of employment through thick and through thin. I feel like my online poets community gives me that. I like communities you live in, recognizing people at the grocery store or school. I like moments of recognition.
But at the moment when Young Allison sees and feels that tight kinship with the woman who has walked in bearing keys, her tongue stops and she can’t come up with the right words. The excitement is palpable, a soul-awakening, a recognition that yes – yes. Yes, I am not alone. These feelings are feelings other people have. This confusion is sweet and the taste isn’t something I have to reinvent an explanation for because yes, yes – I know you. The woman who comes in, she’s a role model there, someone Young Allison can look at and feel that she’s not this abnormal thing, but just something other than what her dad expects.
Sometimes I’m reading other people’s poetry and I feel like Young Allison. My pulse quickens and I feel like the poet is a sister, my family, my community. Jill Khoury’s A Hundred Costumes, Margaret Atwood’s Variation on the word Sleep, Staci Schoenfeld’s Attempts at Flight, Sara Biggs Chaney’s Hospice, Sarah Xerta’s Wired: 29 Short Stories, Sally Keith’s Providence. So many poems, many more than many, many more than this certainly – and even if I’ve never met someone, I know them.
Maybe that’s why Little Alison is striking me so hard in the heart. It took me until I was in my 30s to find a community – and now when I get to experience those moments of connection + implosion, I feel humbled and grateful. I’ve seen people and read poems that I recognize myself in, and it’s exciting, and awe-inspiring, and a little frightening, too. Thanks, poets, for giving me a community and a welcome.