I did not have to think of the giraffe: it simply was. It was resilient to all possible imaginations. Around the corner it appeared, half a block ahead, approaching me with patient clops. I think the only time I had ever seen an actual giraffe was when I was a very small child visiting the zoo; that giraffe, small with distance both physical and memorious, had somehow remained indelible in my consciousness. Now downtown Chicago at 2:30 on a Wednesday afternoon, here it was, the giraffe, or perhaps the Platonic ideal of a giraffe, both form and formlessness. Somebody screamed—one way to react, I suppose.
Up all night the night before writing poetry, or something, and now lagged by a bleary four hour’s rest I was just off the train and trying to remember where the coffee shop, my destination, was. I was to meet her there at 2:45 and I hoped that my timing would allow an espresso to myself beforehand. In my back pocket were six pages of poetry (a single poem, actually) folded hot-dog style. The poetry had nothing to do with a giraffe. Yet the giraffe that came around the corner was like a coda to the previous twenty-four hours of being hunchbacked over a typewriter, the prescribed instrument, stabbing into existence “the best poem you’ve ever goddamn written,” as Roxanne Buontempo (an impossible name I knew not to believe) had demanded. After a thousand coffees and cigarettes I was ready, I pulsed and vibrated, especially alive. There it was, a place called Spro, right on the corner. But still the giraffe.
People formed small clusters through which the giraffe wandered past; others bee-lined around it, heads down going on their way, but then craning backwards to get a look at the animal. The giraffe, for its lazy gait and look in the eye, and its jaw rolling slightly as though with chewing gum, could have been on any old savannah. Second- and third-floor windows were filling up with faces. The giraffe was miniaturely reproduced on a dozen smartphones shivering and glimmering in hands outstretched that were, similarly, giraffe-like. In a nearby cop car a pair of officers had taken off their Aviators and were leaning forward into the windshield. I stepped into a doorway and let the giraffe pass; as it did so it snorted, and gently shook its head.
In Spro, Roxanne Buontempo was already there. I went over to where she was sitting and sat down, taking the poetry out of my back pocket. “Umm, did you happen to notice the giraffe that just walked by?” She looked up from her phone and replied, “Do you have it?”
“Right here,” I said, sliding the hot-dog-folded pages across the table.
She read it while I was waiting in line. Along with the extremely bitter espresso, I was struck with an exquisite recollection of what it was that she was reading: such a labor, such a loss of dignity. First I’d had to find a servicable typewriter—more difficult than I’d anticipated in Wicker Park—which eventually involved meeting somebody in a shadowy garden apartment to purchase an Underwood from Craigslist for $45. It was beat up but would do. On the packed 74 bus I clutched the typewriter case with straining arms while surrounded by the most elegant euphonies of time and life—bubbly pentameters building up around the sides of my mouth—stanzas streaming behind like ribbons—alliterations fluttering around and getting into the eyes of the other passengers, making them blink. But my floppy little notebook for recording such jottings was deep in my back pocket, unreachable while hugging the heavy machine, keeping me unable to soak up all the scribbles verberating in my fingers. At home in front of typewriter it was gone, the poetry was gone. I stared down the ink ribbon for thirty seconds and then got up to make coffee and find a device on which I could order my dinner delivered. My notebook sat unprepared on the table.
I wanted to ask Roxanne Buontempo, have you ever really written a poem? Have you ever had to yank one out of yourself with all time and urgency having taken hold of you? But of course she had. She was a member of THE CLUB. Here she was reading mine; of course she had. She too must have challenged herself to a race-to-the-finish slapping down of a poem, the whole typewriter and twenty-four hours and being unable to think of anything, for thinking about thinking, and thinking about a poem, a poem, a poem. And yet her eye’s cool, firm susurrance diagonal down the page was chilling, tingling. Then she set the pages on the table, facedown. She stared at me. I was afraid to say anything. Meanwhile, a block away, the giraffe had disappeared.
Gazing at my phone on the train, heading back, I saw that the giraffe had emerged onto the internet in a series of retweets and video uploads. Was it a prank TV show, a marketing ploy, or was it something vaster and more sinister? The real mystery, however, was the giraffe’s vanishing while somehow no one was looking, which made its having been there at all seem absurdly ex post facto. Area zoos all shrugged. News crews scrambled everywhere, getting tangled in each other and blocking traffic. The giraffe had returned as seamlessly as it had arrived to the once-again interior of my personal cosmology. Sitting on my sofa I looked across the living room and saw the typewriter; between the two of us crackled a few electrical verses, capturable if I’d had any care to. “Someone will contact you later tonight with a final yes or no,” Roxanne Buontempo had informed me, getting up and taking my poem with her. There are no giraffes in my apartment but who knows, really.
Bernard Reed lives and writes in Chicago. He tweets at @bernardreed.