An open letter to those that say,“we need leaders, not readers”
Psst…. Hey listen up. They say confession is good for the soul. Ok…here goes.
I’ve been cheating on my book. I know that sounds terrible. Oh, don’t look at me that way, like you haven’t done the same, or thought about it. I know, I know…like right now, I should be writing on my book, but I’m writing this to you. Sometimes…I just need to take a break…you know how it is…get out and see what other writers are writing about, find a little creative inspiration. I can’t say I won’t do it again. You see I’m a poly bibliophile. Right now I’m juggling 5 other books. I can’t help it; I’m a sucker for a hot book cover and a catchy title. Especially those tell-all autobiographies and historical novels! Oh, and I can’t leave out the inspiration and political books either. I’m weak. I admit it. I try to stay away from the ‘em but even the supermarkets carry them now!
It’s a little easier now that so many bookstores and libraries have closed. I guess those in the “know”, those folks who say we don’t need readers we need leaders”, are trying to keep the youth of America from this dangerous addiction of mine aka LOR syndrome. What is LOR you ask? Oh I’m sorry, thought you knew, it means Love Of Reading. There’s nothing like breathing in that musky smell of old books, newspapers and magazines in a used bookstore or the library archives. It’s enough to get you intoxicated. Unfortunately that’s a high that too many of our youth will never know as more and more small independent booksellers that have been open for years close down. Yes you never know what LOR might lead to…how about being a creative, critical thinker and innovator. Nope those in the “know” can’t have that, so they say… “Just Say No To Books!” Keep Books Out of the Hands of Children!” I hear some schools are doing a pretty good job of that. Why some even have a list of “banned” books. Imagine that. Imagine, short for imagination. One of the most powerful and dangerous acts to those in the “know” kind of folk, ‘cause we might just imagine and create a new future, a new possibility and way of being in the world that’s more balanced, equitable, sane and creative.
Well for me, Shh…don’t tell anybody, but I’ll be good for a week or so, then before you know it I’m sneaking into my local neighborhood bookstore for that art book on sale (there’s still a few local independent bookstores around you know, so please support them). There’s an old saying when one door closes another opens. With all these Kindles, Nooks and such just imagine how many books the youth can read; they’ll have LOR syndrome in no time. I for one certainly hope they do catch it. Imagine that!
Written in homage to The Aquarian Bookstore, Midnight Special Bookstore, The Bodhi Tree Bookstore, The Gingko Tree Bookstore, Eso Won Bookstore, Marcus Books, An Acre of Books, Sisterhood Bookstore, and the Altadena Library.
People are strange when you’re a stranger
Faces look ugly when you’re alone…
These lyrics haunted me when I was in High School in 1969. Of course it is ironic that they were written by Bruins. I came to realize back then that poetry existed everywhere…
I cannot say that she’s a fool!
For wanting me to fit a mold
Marry a man and bear his kids
I use to ridicule her life
Questioned her every thought
Did not agree with her demeanor
Of gentleness and quiet words
My goal was to be her opposite
A woman that no man could control
Much less an alcoholic
Wanted her to leave his ass
To prove to me she was not weak
Today I stand before her feet
With open arms and gleeful tears
She is the one I want to be
A patient lady at the store
It is to her I owe my life
I’ve been reminded lately of how lucky I was to be an undergraduate at Wellesley College in the 1980s. English faculty included Robert Polito (just appointed the next Director of the Poetry Foundation whose latest collection HOLLYWOOD & GOD is utterly stunning), David Ferry (BEWILDERMENT: NEW POEMS AND TRANSLATIONS just won a National Book Award), Frank Bidart (another national treasure who has a new collection soon forthcoming) and Arthur Gold (whose poems are included in David Ferry’s latest collection).
These are poets who have changed my life and sensibility, and for whom I feel blessed.
What was I thinking that Sunday in a dream when my son, a baby bull, careened into my morning pillow, my head still where I had left it? A great day for a walk maybe? Maybe go to church, get right with the Lord. Stop resisting my interlocutor husband who takes a stand for churching me, my wetlands thinking that maybe God can come to me for a change, that I should stop myself from thinking altogether. That going back to the beginning kind of thinking trying to reinvent the start only leads to trouble. That, really, I was hoping to avoid God today, this, about my being so mad at the Almighty’s lack of care with us, me, you, him, him, Him. Him delivering me such a hurt boy when all I wanted was a few Band-Aids and a joy kind of kid. The trouble with more. While nearby my small son sits coke-twitching watching a stream of YouTube videos. Train crossings, bells, gates coming down, stuff he’s seen before. Train spotter porn.
That my son speaks in burst hellos to strangers on climbing hikes, his hand flagging folks down to pet their dog before asking, then fast bends to a paper crumple at the word, “No,” has got to be a talent somewhere.
Adopted or not, five-year-old eyes can furrow as deep as fifty.
Mom, lets have a picnic in your car. I want to play my CDs, ‘drive’ and push your buttons.
Though you can do that from here, I think, but I bite. Maybe I can multi-task, read, write and block out the sound of his ‘Daylight Limited,’ tape when all I want today is to have my coffee alone in the woods and not hear giddy songs or the kitchen backstory of the bagel tug of war. Who will get the only chocolate chip bagel?
But, I’m a giver, I think, as I wonder if I can fit my body into my coffee cup, if a cup’s too deep for an ego to swim and still hold on, too shallow for a body already drowned to re-drown before the credits part of the movie start to roll. I then think of the high up amber tear that won’t fall from the just trimmed pine at the top of the drive. A honey limb sore spot on too soft tree that takes me down. I rub my arm. Another sucker puss I must pass whose arms and legs are too amputated, too stupid now for crying in reverse hellos, a stick sitting in dirt in suspended animation until next fall. Whatever. Mama’s on her way, son. Mama’s almost there.
Have you ever seen a tragedy right before your eyes?
Well, I have.
But my eyes are the light that shine through the darkness
So they kept right on lookin’.
Have you ever dusted those pretty wings off and tried to fly?
Well, I have and I didn’t make it but two feet off the ground
But my wings are filled with the strength of the holiest angel
So they kept right on flappin’.
Ever went through somethin’ that made you feel like you were gonna die?
Well, I did.
But I’m still right here.
The life in my heart is as strong as all the world’s doom
So it keeps right on beatin’.
at the coffee-table,
in the dark,
while you are
in your own bed,
far from here,
Cynthia is, quite literally, the poet in my life, as last fall I had the pleasure of helping to publish her first collection of poems. Here’s an excerpt from “Amulet,” a poem she published in Briarpatch Magazine:
when time is army marshalled
against you starved and alone
I write in celebration your survival
each molecule of courage you collect
sunrise and sundown.
when you cannot move with the music
laughter blade in your belly
I write in celebration your strength
mourning self and body
no longer answering you.
In a town “where everybody knows your name”,
how can anyone keep a secret?