February 26th, 2008



honey almond soap, vanilla almond tea, jasmine perfume. an evening with ricepaper, a decimated tess gallagher book in the mail. i'll press it between two heavier books on a tight shelf (all my shelves are tight) and maybe, someday, it'll lay flat.

the book is under stars. there's a circle-stain below the title, roughly the size of a shot glass. the ragstock cover curls away from the pages. there's a stranger's name penned on that visible title page, first name in lowercase, last name in all capitals. the binding knots bulge at the ragstock spine. a quarter inch of frayed thread protrudes from the interior corner edge, a cowlick, a bookmark too short to mark. the book was made the year my lover was born. a previous owner boxed off meaningful text on page 13:

It's like this on your own: the charms
unlucky, the employment
solitary, the best love always
the benefit of a strenuous doubt.

the title is "On Your Own." i wonder if the owner who boxed the stanza was on her own yet, really, or if it was boxed from college fantasy--a world she tried to prove her understanding of before she'd yet been forced to give real understanding that hard and unwanted second look. there's a rip on the cover, it stops just off the last letter of stars, a kind of departure from the thought, a tentative glance toward the heavens. gallagher might use too many commas. i might use too many commas. it's a conflict i've had for many years.

i'd like to take my new ancient copy of under stars and lie it along side my ancient new copy of moon crossing bridge. it's the book carol, in her role of gifting oracle, gave me for graduation. that unbent spine, that cover at a full manufacturer's gloss. i'd like to see if i can determine the ways in which my own understanding of the universe has changed: this investment of half my life in something that looks untouched held against yesterday's acquisition, which looks like it's spent ten years buried in loose sand.

what could i determine about myself in viewing my oldest and my most recent tess gallagher books? that the tess who wrote under stars was almost a contemporary, if only maintained in print; that i have many nights to navigate before arriving at my own moon crossing bridge?

it's a chronology for which i am presently grateful. i am yet under stars. i've been counting, lately, and i've been counting too much. number of years, number of accomplishments, number of days left in the month, dollars, dollars, dollars. i can't enjoy a film until i've counted the number of years between myself and the lead actress, between myself and the director, between myself and the author who wrote the book the script was based on. i'm counting to see if i'm still artistically viable, counting what those artists had accomplished by my age, counting on the plausibility of getting somewhere like that in a few years myself. somewhere along the way i got lost: maybe i'm counting the number of chances i have to find my way back.

except the artists keep getting younger and i keep getting older.

maybe i need to look less at chronology and more at my own worth. if only i could stop counting and just look. maybe, looking at my tess gallagher books--written by her 15 years apart, acquired by me 15 years apart--i can marvel at our mysterious gift for existential meter, the unexpected reveal of narrative couplets. the spring before i left for iowa, that last semester at the community college, i was assigned to write a review of an active poets most recent work. i chose the book carol gave me over grilled cheese sandwiches and seasoned fries at colonial's restaurant 3 years before. the paper was for the "advanced poetry" workshop at my community college, a thriving ideological hub of five students, four once the fifth dropped out halfway into the semester--he was disgusted with us for acknowledging poetic forms outside of shakespearian sonnet and subject matters other than love and the beauty of poetry. sometimes i'd walk by him in the cafeteria. he'd always glare.

that day, three days before graduation, the instructor caught me in the hall outside the mail room to tell me he'd been impressed by my choice. "gallagher's so stylistically dense," he told me. he wondered why i'd chosen her. three years before, i'd wondered why she'd been chosen for me, at least past the iconic parallel of curtaining dark hair. "most writers your age crack under her weight, but you did her justice. your paper was extremely well done." at the time, it didn't mean much to me. at the time, not much of anything did. i did feel it was auspicious, that he'd liked my paper, especially with my going off to iowa in a handful of months.

i am either not a poet at all or i am nothing but a poet. or i am a silly girl prone to writing sweeping statements at odd hours of the night in places where such linguistic gesticulations will go uncontested if they are read at all.

i'm no poet. where are my poems? i can't look at them directly. most of them are half thoughts broken up on moleskine pages or as old as my nephew, or as old as my nephew two times over. lots of the things i believed then were wrong. but, then, so are lots of the things i believe now.

we keep changing. it's how we know that we are alive, through the changes we come to in what we believe, what we once believed, what we can't believe any more.