You can call me lube

Luke Mehall - 06/23/2016

She was my first love, and she slipped away. I know exactly when it was. You know those moments when everything is coming together? You see your life shaping up. Then something happens, a downward spiral. We went our separate ways; I went to Durango and figured I’d never create with her again. It would be OK – poetry and I had a good run.

When I lived in Gunnison, before I was anything, I was a poet. It was the first kind of writing I enjoyed. It wrote itself. It was always for love, never for money. The open mic nights and poetry slams in Gunny were some of the best, purest nights of expression in my life. Why is it I could say anything to anyone in prose, even if I kept an armor around my heart the rest of the time? It was her freedom, her accepting nature, that led me back time and time again. She helped me find myself.

It was a quirky love affair, one I was almost ashamed of, how much I liked her. She was weird and never really cool. But who wants to be cool? The cool kids at my high school seemed to peak at 18.

The “too soon” poetry always got me in trouble. At 21, I was the over-eager poet, dying to have a crush so I could write her poetry or make her a mix tape. It didn’t always go as planned, but when I found a girl who liked poetry, well, yeah, she was the right one.

When I moved to Durango, I was surprised, even overwhelmed, by how many writers there were. I found connecting with writers to be an art of sorts. We are a weird bunch. Many of us write because we express ourselves better in writing than we do in conversation. I mean, I say stupid things all the time, but when I write something stupid at least I have the chance to go back and edit it.

With all the writers around, I figured it would only be a matter of time before there was a storytelling event or poetry slam. When a couple years went by, and I never heard about anything, I figured I’d start something of my own. Then I realized how difficult this actually is. I teamed up with a couple people and had some false starts, and then got busy writing and publishing books. But the hunger and void of not creating poetry was very much there.

In the last couple months, it all came together. First, with the “Raven Narratives,” a storytelling event created by Tom Yoder and Sarah Syverson, and then with last weekend’s “Be Heard” poetry slam put on by Ashley Merchant and the local United Way. For me, all that was missing from Durango was coming alive.

I feel like spoken word poetry is coming of age again, even in the mainstream. Rapper Kendrick Lamar has a flair for the spoken word that the hip-hop world has not seen in a long time, with a political activism that makes it even more poignant. Same goes for Beyoncé’s recent “Lemonade” film, which accompanied her album of the same name.

I had butterflies leading up to the poetry slam at the Durango Arts Center. It had been years since I’d performed something from memorization, and I was afraid I was going to be on stage and my mind would go blank.

So I practiced my poem every free moment I had. It started to become a part of me. Even as I rode my bike to the Arts Center that evening, I practiced it three times. At that point, I was so wired into the words, it was just time to breathe, relax and enjoy myself.

The night kicked off on a somber note when the emcee, Ben Fisher, asked for a moment of silence for Orlando. That was followed by a poem from local high school student Amy Leonard on her thoughts on the tragedy and what it means to be a gay American. That girl’s got some serious passion and talent.

The slam had a raw feel that was enjoyable. Many of the poets, ranging from high school students to the charming older man who read a vignette about Jackie Robinson, simply read in an open mic style.

There were many missteps made by Ben, the emcee, which he graciously and hilariously acknowledged. When he pulled my name out of the hat, he said, “Well that’s an interesting one, is there a Lube in the audience?”

It was the perfect introduction. I felt my nervousness melt away as he said it again, “Lube, are you out there?”

After telling him my name was actually Luke, I performed my poem without pause or panic, it was ingrained into my brain and nothing would stop me now. It was a weird feeling, the closest I’ve ever come to an out-of-body experience. You practice something alone, over and over again, and now you’re anything but alone. There’s energy and an audience, and they are interacting with your words. Then, in an instant, you’re done. They clapped. They liked it.

I was glad I went early so I could sit back and enjoy everyone else’s poetry. There were so many moving poems; it’s a little mind-boggling to contemplate.

Amy Leonard was the champion, and she deserves it. Gretchen Groenke, of Mancos, was the runner up, and she deserved it too. Both motivated me to step up my game as a performer; they were so polished, poetic and passionate.

The night was capped by some impromptu beat boxing from Ben, followed by a moving dance performance by Natalie Benally from Dancing Earth. It was an interpretive piece aimed at creating awareness for the alarming rates of sexual abuse against Native American women.

Afterwards, still riding the high, I stopped at Steamworks for a beer and a bite. As I was walking across the bar, a couple of women stopped me and said, “Good job tonight, Lube!”

So yeah, I guess now all my new poetry friends will be calling me Lube. Thanks a lot, Ben.

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