04/12/11 - Birmingham. Bohdan collects me from the station and he is wearing bright red Beats-By-Dre headphones. I accuse him of selling out as we twirl through ticket barriers, up escalators, through the vast shopping complex connected to Birmingham's New Street Station. Bohdan has plotted a path from here to his flat, 90% of which is indoors, through Selfridges and the Bull Ring. I am impressed. We arrive and his beautiful wife Karolina and Zosia his daughter welcome me with a flurry of hugs, cheek kisses and babybabble talk. I love their flat, it is warm, modern, full of light and their voices add to its charm. Hoon, the strummer for the night, arrives and we trade songs on youtube: Feist, Bjork & PJ Harvey, Tom Waits & Kool Keith, Sound of Rum and Saul Williams. Bohdan boasts about his impressive array of finger food and lays them out as the guests arrive. I still get nervous thinking these guys have come to listen to my poems and perhaps buy a book, when I'm brave enough I catch their eyes, stand at the door, shake hands, other times, I bury my head and shift books about the table pretending to be busy.
First to arrive: Heather and her 13 year old Daughter (who walks in holding a Terry Pratchett book!) Stephanie, who a couple months before interviewed Bohdan and I for a radio show, her boyfriend Thom, an array of poets, enthusiasts, a couple of Bohdan's students and Kim Trusty, a great mutual, mischievous friend of ours. Some are sat on the Sofa, some on chairs, some against the wall bums on the floor and soon it is time to begin.
Hoon is only a few years younger than me. He is relaxed in his own skin, inquisitive and gentle. Bohdan turns the light down for Hoon to begin playing songs, he strums, opens his mouth and what comes out is the last thing I'd imagined his voice to sound like, it is powerful, warm, strong the kind you'd expect to sound-track a lone traveller driving through rain on a cold stormy night, all gravel and rising. Too soon he is done. I read the poem called 'Directions' from the book; I read it for the lady who arrived last and talked briefly about how tough it was to find Bohdan's place, I also read it for Heather and her daughter who have to leave as tomorrow is a school day. There is a 10-15 minute break and I duck into Bohdan's study to fully select poems to read.
Hoon plays another song and it is my turn to take the spotlight in Bohdan's kitchen/living room. I sweat, again, but try to pace myself this time, to plot the turning points of poems, to as best as possible, let the emotions that gave rise to these works sing out between their words. I share with the gathered folks parts of my recent history that I'd never share in other settings, things I feel further open the poem to greater understanding; I read 'Twenty Five' a prose poem about my parent's 25th wedding anniversary, and we are done. They clap. Generously, I stand up, switch on the lights and they are still clapping. Kim Trusty who had heard most of the poems quite a few times says this is the first time she had properly digested their stories, how this is the perfect setting to share, and if not for the table between us, I'd rugby tackle her a hug for saying this. They ask me to sign books and thank me for reading, I sign books and thank them for coming. Andy from Birmingham University asks me to personalise his book to seem as if we are old friends - incase I get famous, he could impress people with so I write: 'To Andy, last night at the pub was brilliant, I never get tired of hearing that story, I know the punchline, but it still gets me every time, see you next week, Inua...'
After the flat is empty, and Karolina goes to sleep, Bohdan and I talk, we converse long into the night and it is the best kind of conversation, the kind that seems to be about everything and simultaneously, nothing, that tumbles, twists in intensity, that is about the future, past and the never ending present. We listen to an old blues song called 'One Meatball' (check it out) and it time to sleep.
It is time to wake. Bohdan and I take Zosia to nursery after Karolina leaves for work and I am suddenly aware that it is no longer the weekend; there is work to be done. Bohdan and I share one last cup of coffee, shake hands, he walks out the cafe and I feel like I've discovered a new old friend in this city, its canals, its hills, its life.