A Creation Story

After “Everybody,” by Marie Sheppard Williams

In the beginning was a poem.
And in the poem lived an old man
fashioned from the damp and dust of words,
breathing the fresh air of white space.
This man wore a dirty canvas coat,
thick with signatures,
thousands of names in black and blue—
the ink of people at bus stops,
on bridges, in stores,
in factories and hospital wards,
in prisons, on porches,
on street corners waiting for the light to change—
everybody he’d ever asked to sign,
in every place he’d ever gone,
trying to get every soul.

On a certain day in summer,
a woman chanced upon that gap-toothed man
living in his poem in the heart of a book
she took down from a neglected shelf in her home.
As soon as they met, his coat flew up from the page
and built a nest in the tree of her mind.

There it remained until winter blew in
and knocked the coat from its forgotten perch.
She found it in a box in her cluttered closet,
no longer scruffy but new, somehow,
cardinal red instead of brown,
made not of canvas but quilted goose down.

I am part of everybody, she wrote in black
above her name in the middle of the back.

Can I sign too? asked her young son.

Thus was another coat begun,
big enough to carry the world.

Play notes: Perhaps you've heard about my red "I am part of everybody" coat. I started wearing it nine years ago. Anybody who believes that they're "part of everybody" can sign it. This is a tribute poem for Marie Sheppard Williams, whose poem planted the idea for this piece of performance art in my mind. Read Williams' poem here.