It was after midnight and we were walking thru the streets of the mountain casino town of Blackhawk when Ira Liss and his wife Karen suddenly stopped.
“Oh wow!” Ira looked up at a sign and said, “This casino has an ice cream shop!”
“Wow, should we go in and get a cone?!” Karen asked.
“I think we should!” Ira said.
Then they both ran inside. It was like they’d only heard of The Legend of Ice Cream before and now they were finally seeing it with their own eyes.
“Oh, what kind should we get?” Karen asked.
“I don’t know,” Ira said, “there are so many flavors.”
Then they started saying all the flavors to each other.
“Mint chocolate chip” “Coffee” “Strawberry”
“You can sample anything you want,” the ice cream girl said.
“Ooh,” they said.
Then the ice cream girl took little mini spoons and scooped the different ice creams so they could try them.
“French vanilla” “Cookies and cream” “Pistachio”
When they settled on a flavor they each got a whole cone of it. They licked them and smiled at each other like it was the sweetest, most mouth-soothing experience of their lives. It made me think, “man, only such advanced human beings could possibly enjoy ice cream this much.”
It was my 33rd birthday and I had assembled a dreamteam of Boulder Poetry Scene all-stars to celebrate. We went to Blackhawk because sometimes getting away from your normal surroundings is the only way to allow a certain kind of magic to happen. So many of the greats came, Get in the Car Helen, Nancy Stohlman, Dank Phart, Max Toast, Marcus and many others. We took the town by storm, infiltrating the Ameristar Hotel, and then using our position to strike the buffet and the hot tub and the slot machines with our Boulder Poetry Scene spirit. It was good. All who came in contact with us were suddenly left just a little more poetic. And we were all left with valuable life lessons such as drawing a twenty or an eleven against a two on the blackjack table doesn’t mean shit in Blackhawk cuz the tables are rigged.
Ira Liss matched us step for step and at the end of the night he was one of the last men standing. It was him, me, Dank Phart and my old friend and personal ‘pharmacist’ Wolf. We huddled together in one of our bathrooms and Ira led us all in a series of hyper-spiritual theatre games.
“Now,” he said “Let’s go around in the circle and each one of us say a single word and then do a physical gesture to go along with it.”
We went around and everyone was helpless not to gently bow and say some kind of word of advanced human consciousness like ‘gratitude’ or ‘love.’ But when it was Ira’s turn he flailed his arms around and went, “blubabedadabo!” We all nodded and the whole thing left us bonded in a state of intense calm and awareness . At some point we convened and while Wolf and I were then compelled to snort lines of A-Substance-Rumored-To-Cause-Cannibalism-But-Doesn’t-Actually and hit the early morning streets of Blackhawk in search of angels and enlightened hobos, Ira, I later heard, ended up making happy noises with his wife on the hotel room floor until the sun came up.
Ira Liss is old. He’s turning 60 next month, which means he’s about four decades older than the average participant at a Boulder Poetry open mic. He has some physical characteristics of an old person, like graying hair and slightly weathered skin, but at the same time there is a youthful quality that you can’t quite put your finger on. There is a general softness to him and Ira moves his body and expresses his face with a smoothness and ease as if he is defying science and on some basic cellular level age is not decaying him but rather making him much stronger. I’ve seen teenagers perform at open mics and be so afraid of protecting their fledgling identity from judgment that it noticeably affects their body, causing things like sagging cheeks, a raspy voice, or a full on hunchback. Ira, on the other hand, makes me feel like I’m watching a newborn giggling at peekaboo.
Ira popped up at the Innisfree open mic sometime this past spring and his onstage presence immediately caught my attention. He was the rare type who slowly and clearly delivered his poetry as if every word of it mattered. I remember at last spring’s MeToo! Night Ira brought his keyboard and started singing an original blues song about how humans are destined to suffer. When he sang the word ‘suffer’ his voice went to some emotionally silly place that the throat is not used to handling and it cracked wildly like thunder. It made me realize he was willing to go all the way to express himself and I set out to ally myself with him at once. I attended a music/poetry one man show he performed at The University of Colorado’s Atlas Theater, (the events of which Ira promotes as his day job). I then got him to play piano with my band Girls Just Wanna Have Us for my F-Bomb feature in June. And I tried to persuade him to come over to the Noname bar after the Innisfree mic every Tuesday.
It was there I discovered just how advanced Ira Liss really is. I would be bummed out by something like the hopelessness of becoming a nationally recognized poetry superstar and Ira would say something like, “Dream as big as possible. Imagine reading to crowds of thousands of people. It’s okay.” Or we would be dancing to the Noname’s Tuesday night swing music and between songs he’d turn to me and say something like, “Dancing is one of those small moments of relief we get to have in life. Take it.” I mean he’d look you right in the eye and give you that damn beautiful infant smile and say something like, “I am not perfect and I’m not saying this like I know better than you and you can listen to me or not, I don’t mind, but you can let go of your shame.” And you just sit there stunned and almost crying and clutching at the empty space where one of your most cherished psychological walls existed just a second ago.
Ira is right, he’s not perfect, and most of his art is about that very subject. He likes to do audience participation exercises in which he confesses all his insecurities and weaknesses and then he cues you to go something like “not fair,” or “this sucks” in your wildest temper tantrum voice and it feels really good to say and you can’t wait until he cues you again. I suppose this is the heart of his healing – he is so honest about himself that you trust him and can’t help but believe him when he drops the wisdom on you. That is how all the true MeToo Poets do it.
Ira Liss will be a featured performer 730 tonight at Johnny’s Cigar Bar (1801 13th st) for the 2013 finale of Bouldering Poets. Go to this and there will be a good chance that you will be healed in at least some small way. No matter what poetry or music he performs just seeing him smile on stage will transport you for a moment to some Baskin Robbins you’re parents took you to as a kid when you were amazed by how many flavors there were and there was joy to be found anywhere at any moment. Ya know, The Wonder of Being Alive. It takes a long time and a special person to capture this in art. There are not many Ira Liss’s on this earth. Tonight is your chance to witness one.