REDMOND – When you’re a street poet and people are waiting in line, there’s no time for writer’s block.

Afrose Fatima Ahmed sits at a red table in Redmond with her green portable Hermes Rocket typewriter and a stack of blank quarter-sheets of paper.

People step up, take a seat next to her and, after a short give-and-take, propose a topic close to them. Or they give her the name of a loved one.

Ahmed’s poetry flows out, carried “by intuition. I just go with it, no time to second-guess it.” She says she once paused for almost 30 seconds, but usually just dives in.

“I listen, then I respond intuitively, unconsciously.”

Sugar, transported in a carriage by Todd and Teresa Stanley, patiently waits in line for a poem about traveling. (Alan Berner / The Seattle Times)
Sugar, transported in a carriage by Todd and Teresa Stanley, patiently waits in line for a poem about traveling. (Alan Berner / The Seattle Times)

Ahmed, who lives in the Tri-Cities, has a bachelor’s degree from Western Washington University and a master’s from the University of Texas. She speaks Urdu, and likes Chilean poet Pablo Neruda and Kashmiri American poet Agha Shahid Ali.

She writes about “the community of us.”

The typewriter, her fifth or sixth, produces the crisp, distinct sound of work as the keys rise up and strike the paper. The carriage return signals the end of a line.

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It’s a lot of sound for such a little machine.

No electricity is needed but for the spark of her imagination, “a dance of co-creation with an artist,” as Ahmed calls it.

Hank Myers asked for and received a poem about his wife, Christine. It begins, “we love amongst a sea of swift frenzy…” (Alan Berner / The Seattle Times)
Hank Myers asked for and received a poem about his wife, Christine. It begins, “we love amongst a sea of swift frenzy…” (Alan Berner / The Seattle Times)

This is serious work. But there’s a quick and easy elegance to it.

People have asked for poems about illness and grief.

She says, “I wanted to censor the shadow out of my own work.  But, I feel the work I do is healing, but unassuming.”

A couple step up and ask for a piece about traveling the world.

Within seconds Ahmed begins:

 

no one ever says

how vast the sea can feel

when we are but tiny dots

on a small ship      cradled

in the earth’s womb

i am but a bug        skimming the surface

of a foreign city

not knowing the language

but feeling the depth of the work

swirling around me

a part of it all

 

The Awarun family, with 6-week-old Simona asleep in her carriage, approaches.

Ahmed writes:

 

we enter this world

together      through & of

each other   how hearts are born

like acorn from the oak

you, tiny      but containing

a hundred foot giant

just waiting to sprout

from your sweetness

Teresa Stanley, holding Sugar, loves to travel with husband Todd and asked for a poem about traveling the world. (Alan Berner / The Seattle Times)
Teresa Stanley, holding Sugar, loves to travel with husband Todd and asked for a poem about traveling the world. (Alan Berner / The Seattle Times)

People leave the poet’s table touched, saying they’re going to frame the sheet.

Some say they might cry, moved by words written just for them.

Ahmed sometimes runs out of paper, but not words.