Monday, October 28, 2013

My Paper Asylum

I am seduced by Tom Waits in a narrow storefront of dog-eared paperbacks, colored hardcovers and quiet strangers. I walk a carved path through tree-tall shelves of second hand knowledge. My emotions begin to ruffle amidst the clean clutter. I feel the woods. There are streaks and spilt glows of golden sunlight as if sent through treetops and music that engulfs me like headphones or a deep bath. I exhale and sink. It swallows me. The voice of Waits drapes the walls with cigarette-speckled tweed, his grand piano hanging from the rafters, his words, "I hope that I don't fall in love with you" reverberating through the bones of the books and the skin of my soul. This place feels like home, like a paper womb. There are plastic toys in staged poses and postcards and family photographs taped along the dark timber planks beneath stacks of philosophy anthologies by the door. Lamp-lit corners whisper a feeble, but capable luminescence. I walk to the old man where he stands beside his notebook of pencil markings from the day's sales. Softly I speak, afraid I might tear the ink-threaded air. I ask if he has the original children's book, The Boxcar Children. He lost a lot of this classic series to a small flood, but if he has any left they'd be here, he says to me pointing. I thought he might be a mean old man, but he's quite sweet with his sideways glance. I look for the book but don't find it. Instead I buy an old hardcover of Heidi and the picture book, Madeline. The total is $11. Do I have a $1 bill? He asks. No, I'm sorry. Just this $20. He takes out his floppy leather wallet and fingers through his green bills (soft, second-hand like the books they bought). He wants to hold onto his ones. He tells me. He'll charge me $10. Thank you. I say, kindly before saying something about the wonder of his place. Something about the magical maze of books.  Maybe he can't hear the awkwardness in my fidgeting. And how long have I lived just down the road without ever coming in? He asks, smiling. Not too long. I say. Just a year.      

On the sidewalk, I place the books and my purse in my bicycle basket. I take my small key and unlock my old blue bike from the tree where it leans. I sit on the seat and ride for home and as if my pockets are full of hummingbird feathers, I feel the warmth of my paper asylum fall from me to the wind. 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Man Made

Scott scolds my criticisms of the modern man. A scoff that slits the skin of my confidence and exposes the pink inside my white exterior. I press the sides together and hope for it to hold, but when I let go, it opens again and my silence bleeds out like a cloud. He's right.  

I wrote of powdered corn syrup, tin cans of tomatoes, sea salt crystals and apple cider vinegar as if they were sucked from the soul of Satan, packaged and sold to the sick. Sure, these industrialized products may not be the best for our bodies, but they are not the addictive poison I have previously implied. Certainly, most grocers are not mass murders. There is some goodness in today's American pantry because there is some goodness in progress. I myself am indebted to progress. For without it there would no veganism, feminism or democracy. I wouldn't have hand soap, folk music, movie theaters, paper, pencils and public libraries. 

I buy man-made materials so that I don't need to kill squirrels, sew their carcasses together and wear their fur in winter for warmth. I live in man-made buildings so that I don't need to concoct shelter from sticks, manure and mud. I buy cheap man-made shampoo and conditioner that come in big plastic bottles with pumps for my convenience. I keep them on the windowsill beside
 our porcelain bath sculpture, which has a spout that rains clean hot water onto my naked body every morning. I drive a car to work on cold and rainy days and listen to NPR and put on the seat heater and flip on the windshield wipers to get the bird poop off. I cross steal bridges and cement highways. I strap seat belts around my belly in the back of airplanes and stand like a skateboarder in the aisles of crowded metropolitan busses. I ride a bicycle with rubber brakes, metal spoked wheels and a cushy nylon seat. I wear boots with laces and zippers. I sit on toilets that magically flush my pee away. I sit at my computer beside a screaming, steaming radiator. I sit on our couch watching episodes of television shows, documentaries and films. I call my parents on the telephone and write letters that travel from me to Massachusetts. I wear polyester and plastic buttons and blue denim and wool gloves and soft, stretchy socks. I light scented candles and listen to music and dance and drink from cardboard cartons of organic orange juice. Man made me these conveniences. And I am grateful. I want to recede from my verbal assault on man. A moment of silence to listen and realize that it's gotten much better. Human life that is. And perhaps a big part of that is because of canned peaches, bakery baked bread and jars of jam. 

Besides, I don't want to feel like a hypocrite whenever I make myself a cup of herbal tea, steam a bag of frozen broccoli, dress my salad with salty tomato salsa, eat my mother's vegetable chili or take seconds of my mother-in-law's baked plantains. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013


There was a joke on the radio about American literature being all junk, unworthy of the Nobel Prize. Memoir is all we have now, the joker told me. Autobiographies of the dissatisfied, spoiled Americans, miserable in their self-involved shiny lives. I don't want to be an American writer anymore. Sometimes I'd rather be an alien from the great blue space. So ashamed of the hypocritical bully we can be. Afraid the others will find our weapons and kill us dead, we are. We make fear in factories, mass produce it with our armies and news stations. I wonder when we'll blow ourselves up. When the history books will burn and God will decide to take a break for a long while before conjuring up a different kind of cell. A microscopic organism who will not turn on love, but will always turn to it. I will be more than a girl writing stories about being lonesome for home and upset over pimples, a broken bicycle and rent. I will be more.  

Here is now. Now is here.

Sometimes we must live far from home. 

In a place of cement and strangers, we walk our anxious dog in circles, picking up her poop with little plastic bags and feeding her treats to keep her from barking at small children who want to pet her, old crooked women who spook her and friendly folks who reach to touch her. Sometimes we must live far from home in a city of bricks and plaster, of stacked apartments, corner bodegas and carts of homemade Mexican food, of liquor stores and pharmacies. Sometimes we must live far from home because wanting to leave just isn't a good enough reason. Because we're adults now. And adults have to work. And when an opportunity arrises, sometimes we must stay simply for a line on a resume. 

I will start saving my change for a farm house. I will collect pictures I find of trees, farms, and wide planked kitchen floors. I may be a very old woman before I can lay in bed and listen to the sound of crying coyotes.