UNPITCHABLE: SEATTLE, WASHINGTON
BY LESLIE JAMISON
The minute I’m in Seattle, I want to write a poem about Seattle. I haven’t written a poem since the one in college about a divorcée and her parrot, not unless you count that one drunk email to my ex. But I find myself with things to say about Seattle. Everything I’m thinking and feeling right now has to do with Seattle, because I’m in Seattle.
First of all, everyone who lives in Seattle looks just like a person who lives in Seattle. Except for my dad. My dad spent years living in Seattle, but he doesn’t look like someone who lives in Seattle. So all these Seattle-looking people surprise me. Surprise! There you go: another thing I have felt in Seattle.
I think I could look like someone who lives in Seattle. I am my father’s daughter, but only up to a point. Even the Space Needle looks more like a person who lives in Seattle than my dad does. I have an ex who looked nothing like the Space Needle but did look like a person from Seattle, because he was. A man walks by in pants I couldn’t even tell you what they’re made of. If it’s leather, it’s not like any leather I’ve ever seen; it’s almost shining.
A bunch of hipsters are opening a bank account right in front of me. Seattle is letting them. God bless you, Seattle. Their sneakers are unlaced but not in a dangerous or intentional way, because this is Seattle. No one is trying to prove anything to anyone; no one is all I don’t give a fuck what you think. People give a fuck quietly, dressed in layers, with age-appropriate amounts of gray. I have an ex who hated the saying, “It is what it is,” a saying I have always loved. Here in Seattle I wouldn’t need to say to him, I don’t give a fuck what you think, because Seattle is what it is, and I know that. Pike Place is going to feed me blackberry honey and chocolate pasta, and it’s going to cure my eczema with a special cream of herbs. I wish I had eczema so Pike Place could cure it. I would break all my bones just so Seattle could set them. Look! Now there’s a dead fish with a sign that says, “I’m a monkfish, Come Closer.” I think I will, Seattle. I think I just did.
The Rite-Aid here is not like mine. It has a kind of candy I’ve only ever seen at my grandma’s house, which was also my house, because we lived with her—or she with us.
In any case: those little apple squares with walnut bits and powdered sugar. I only ever saw them in her personal porcelain, and now here in Seattle. Fucking Seattle. No wonder my ex was awesome, the one who was from here. He broke so much of me I turned him into God. Not unrelatedly, Seattle has a Machu Picchu made of broken stereos from the 1980s, surrounded by stepped-on Skittles and unstepped-on Skittles. You know what they say about chickens in the coop: Some are part of the plan; some are part of the damage. It would be so easy to step on one more of them, so hard to take it back.
It’s not all perfect. I mean, there’s an installation that looks like this incredible pile of crushed blue glass I saw at Dia:Beacon that just blew my fucking mind, but when I get close, this is just shitty painted ceramic waves. I don’t like the stuff by the Northwest Native American artist, which probably means I’m going to hell. Forgive me, Seattle. I don’t deserve you. I feel totally mortal when I watch videos of thematic Ghanaian coffins. There are masks nearby: monkey and elephant. The placard says: “Masks have a lot of work to do.” You are killing me, Seattle. Too much of your wonder, and none of your rain.
But then little things start happening. First, there’s an HSBC. What’s that about, Seattle? I’ve hated HSBC for years, ever since I was always poor when they were my bank. Then there’s the homeless guy on the bench, saying, “Sometimes Seattle makes me sick,” which is sort of fucking with how I feel about Seattle, which so far includes feelings of: surprise; requesting God’s blessing; not needing to say anything to my ex; and feeling both like and unlike my father. My father’s wife used to make dumplings full of nettles gathered from the public parks of this city. Now they don’t live here anymore. There are no nettles where they are. We all have a reason to miss Seattle. I’m sure I’ll have mine.
Maybe it’ll be the guy who checks me into my hotel. He has a plaque with his name on it, which is Noah. Underneath, it says: “Passion? Netflix.” That’s the name of another ex of mine, not Netflix but Noah. It might sound like I’m obsessed with my exes, but really I don’t have a single thing to say to any one of them. I am just looking to buy the Skittle pre-crushed, to make the leather I’ve never seen shine. I get a Greek yogurt, and the woman gives me extra cobbler topping and tells me about a bench nearby with nice views of the Ferris wheel, and often crackheads. I find the bench. I call my father so he won’t just be an idea in my poem but an actual person, speaking. He doesn’t pick up. I leave my usual message: “Not sure if you’re in the country” etc., and onwards. I’ll never be from here. But I could get carried into the next life inside a coffin shaped like a person who was.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Leslie Jamison penned our first-ever “Letter to a Stranger,” writing to a traveling magician in Granada, Nicaragua, where she worked for a time as a Spanish teacher. She is the author of The New York Times bestselling essay collection, The Empathy Exams, and the novel The Gin Closet—a finalist for the Los Angeles Times First Fiction Award—as well as a regular columnist for The New York Times Sunday Book Review, and an assistant professor at Columbia University.
Photo credit: Ian D. Keating