While the lines weren’t expected to be long, unlike 2008, I still wanted to be prepared to wait. Voting lines aren’t the best places to make conversation – people are very circumspect; no one wants to be accused of electioneering. So it’s generally fairly quiet.
The book I brought with me was David Wheeler’s Contingency Plans. I had started it the night before, and it seemed a good choice for what to do while waiting to vote. Cynics might say that at least I could do something productive or edifying like read poetry while waiting to waste my time with the voting machine. I am not a cynic when it comes to voting. By the time I reach the voting booth, I know whom and what I’m voting for or not. Tucked inside my copy of Contingency Plans was a sheet of paper with the names of the judges I was going to vote against retaining.
I checked in with the first gatekeeper, handing over my driver’s license and was giving a voting slip (Voter # 171). Then I stood in the alphabetical line (S-Z) to officially sign my name, initial my address, and be given the go ahead – to go wait in another line to vote.
I waited to vote, two places behind a woman who was complaining about having to wait for people to finish voting at the touch-screen voting stations. (We get our choice of touch-screen or punch card ballots.) The complainer eventually got tired and got out of line to go ask for a punch card ballot. By the time the voting officials have moved heaven and earth to get her punch card authorized, I was finished voting and walking out of the room.
Almost, I didn’t wake up,
and felt worse for wear.
I was so close to being swallowed
Entirely by blankets and comforters
I never asked for but wrapped
Around me anyway…
Those lines had duplicated my morning – wrapped in warm blankets and not wanting to get up early to have time to vote before work, almost being swallowed by the candidates’ representatives working the polls (always 25 feet from the entrance), people and political brochures I never asked for but seemed to wrap around me anyway.
Coincidental, I thought.
The next poem centered me in the poetry again – “Because I speak on my feet,” a kind of love poem that’s actually more about words and language. I looked up, and saw there were still three people ahead of me to vote.
Then I read “On Restlessness,” and came to these words in the second stanza:
I won’t have the time it takes to blink
before today has again stifled any question
that might hinder my progress across the floor.
Extraordinary, I thought. Did Wheeler compose this while waiting to vote? And then this:
When you can make angels touch the floor,
There will be nothing left to manually operate.
The universe will be in control of everything,
Assuring us of this when we watch the stars blink…
I was nervous for the state of everything…
Then came two shorter poems (“Compline” and “Adequate”), and I was next in line to vote. I had just turned the page to “Slaughter Season” when I was motioned to a voting booth. (Slaughter Season! Did the poet know I was voting for very few incumbents and for a bunch of amendments and propositions that would essentially restrict the growth of government?)
Contingency Plans is not a political treatise or prognostication. It’s actually a collection of rather extraordinary poems that I have already read two and three times, and intend to read two or three times more. And the lines I was reading were merely coincidental with my experience on election day. (I think.)
But it does say something about the poet and the poems, something grand, when what he has written comes alive in an unexpected way, in an unexpected place and an unintended context.
Photograph: Flag by Anna Cervova, via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.