(based on a true story) Woman of twenty-something reads paper menu on 4 train as though it is a novel: page-turner with characterized ingredients she-- chooses her adventure of heartburn.
My thirteenth lover refused to read anything outside of cereal boxes or street signs. We would make love in silence, moving only one-third of our bones. When she kissed me, I alphabetized my book collection in my head. Reread Baudelaire and Cesaire while she flapped her tongue against mine like a drowning victim.
She had no idea I was cheating on her with the volumes of books inside my imagination. She had no idea that the small moans exiting my mouth were for Sexton and Rumi and Giovanni and Baldwin.
One day, I slipped a poem beneath her pillow, cut up from a book I found on a stoop during a walk without her one Spring.
She barely noticed it, except that when she woke, she did mention an infiltration of noise in her sleep.
Usually, she dreamed in mute and beige.
Soon after, we broke up due to the fact that kissing can only last so long before one aches for an index and bibliography. I left her for a writer who drank shots of ink and licked me with stained tongue. We wrote novels with our bodies. We made love on abandoned train tracks and defrosted the language of seventeen poets onto each other’s skin.
It only lasted a summer. Until I met a novelist. With a vocabulary stretching past seventy-three states.
Reading a book is like being in a relationship. There are moments you do not want it to end, yet there are also times when you feel more than ready to walk away from it. There are disappointments, but also surprises. Sometimes, there are sequels, which just elongates the pleasure.
I’ve had entire summers dedicated to writers, unable to say goodbye to their language: Mary Gaitskill, Haruki Murakami, Charles Bukowski, even an orgy of Pablo Neruda, Kazim Ali and Hafiz.
It is easy to use the excuse: there is just no time to read a book, but time must be paved and watered.
When I read, I travel to countries and territories I may never get the opportunity to discover. I meet characters who help me to understand myself and the world around me. I read poems that expand my vision. Reading reminds me to always believe in magic.
Here are just a few great books I read this year and highly recommend:
Nevada (Topside Press) by Imogen Binnie. Throughout this book, I felt like I was part of the bike gears turning over bridges as the narrator, Maria, traveled toward and away from herself. I was significantly blown away by this novel and the honest, funny and emotional writing of Imogen Binnie. After reading this book, I purchased, The Collection, which is a phenomenal anthology of transgender writers, including Binnie. I just didn’t want to let go of her yet.
Man Alive (City Lights Publishing) by Thomas Page McBee is a memoir exploring masculinity and a highly focused dissection of the past. It is poetic and brutal and exploratory. I found myself folding over the corners of pages in order to go back to his words. I even underlined some things, faintly, since it was a library book. This one I need to purchase, so I can reread and rediscover.
Prosperity, A Novel (Dog Ear Publishing) by Jenna Leigh Evans. I was blown away by Evans’s vocabulary and cinematic approach to the ways in which debt can be overpowering and (oddly) funny. It is beyond relatable, since I want to believe that everyone is slathered in some form of debt. The entire time I was reading this book, I felt like I was watching it. Her mind is so illustrative and she crafted a place that I could see in every scene, down to the color and smell of it all.
For Today I Am a Boy (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) by Kim Fu explored the complex relationship of gender and culture. I fell in love with the protagonist, Peter Huang, and loved being a part of his journey away from and toward home. Kim Fu brings such dynamic characters together up until even the very end of this novel.
An Untamed State (Grove Press) by Roxanne Gay has infiltrated my dreams and has sewed itself to my palm. I am forever changed by the horrific accounts of the protagonist, Miri. Roxanne Gay already had me with “Bad Feminist”. I fell in love with her frankness. Here, in this novel, she captivates my core. I feel bloodied and battered from the scenes she creates.To write that I could not put this down is not exact enough. Even when I put it down, I was reading it. I want to ask Gay: How did you leave these scenes while writing them? How were you able to move through the world (eat lunch with friends, watch a television program, sleep) with these images crafted by your mind and fingers. This book MUST be read.
Retrograde (great weather for MEDIA) by Puma Perl surprised me in such marvelous ways. I’ve been a fan of Puma Perl’s since moving back to Brooklyn almost five years ago. Her poetry is gritty, like rock-n-roll slurs of graffiti against the page. I’ve seen her perform many times and she slides her words out seductively and authoritatively. I have read most of (if not all) of her books and find that this collection shows such immeasurable growth that makes me an even bigger fan than I already was.
the pedestrians (Wave Books) by Rachel Zucker feels like a walk through the subconscious mind. This is what I imagine it might feel like to hold hands with another’s frontal lobe, interlocking fingers with mood and behavioral status. There is a saltiness to her prose. A desperation drenched in almost-stale tears. It is a unique experience to read a book of poetry and want to call it a ‘page-turner’, but this one definitely is.
Here (Mariner Books) by Wislawa Szymborska became my travel date on a long walk through Greenpoint, Brooklyn one day. I carried her words around and could feel the seep of her line breaks saturate my skin; her words drip. I feel full when I read her, like I’ve just eaten a meal full of protein and starches and my insides feel bathed. There is an optimism in her writing that also reveals a bit of loneliness as well.
Johnny Cash sings to me from a Brooklyn cafe. Somewhere in the walls, he lifts himself through circular cracks called speakers and haunts me into this letter. Are you writing. A woman on the 4 train with dark roots and red-drenched locks asked to read my shoulder today. I watched her from the Bronx into Brooklyn, read local newspaper out loud to her partner. I first grew distracted by her voice, which sounded carved out and scratched up like acidic-graffiti on subway windows. I watched her mouth move, a bit sunken in from lack of teeth, slowly sound out each word. With invisible straw between lips, she sucked up each syllable, then looked at her partner. That’s from a book, she said. I can tell. I wanted to tell her that humans hit the height of their beauty when they are reading. Humans who swallow literature in ways that sometimes cause indigestion or sometimes create strain in the gut. This is the stun of cognition.
Rebel, I wonder about the state of your mountains: the peaks of earth that grow inside you. Perhaps I can lend you some of my bolts and windows. My glass is streaked but so is this planet. How about you throw ink into the air and let the wind bring your liquid permanence toward this side.
Johnny twangs his teeth into knee-slapping rhythms and I’ve put on some weight. It is either a baby or a prose poem gathering dust inside my womb and I may need to whisper into my body that I am not a fan of over-population, and much prefer the narrative of metrical structure. Can we yurt soon. There is a home that is red on a street made of crowns and it waits for me to insert my key. I think about what home has meant to me this past month of wander. Suppertime with a human who has reintroduced to me the importance of starting over. Adventures with a three-year old who notices everything that gets lost once you reach a certain age. Sleeping in a room where a pile of bags remind me of impermanence. There has been love and some wanderings of grey. Contemplations of exi(s)ting. Rebel, I will cook you kale and poetry. We can drip coconut oil from our curls into a cast iron pan and devour the days that cling to our twists. I’ll keep my windows open.
My wise soul sister talks to me about the importance of connecting to words. Beyond just licking fingertips to flip pages. Beyond even the recognition of finding oneself within the lines.
She tells me that if I am moved, I should say something. As a writer, I know how solitary this process can be. A lot of thinking, cataloguing, noticing, noting. A lot of writing, typing, choosing to be alone over being with others. So when I am moved, inspired in such a way that I weep trees out of my body, then I should really let that writer know.
The first time I contacted a writer, I was living in Brooklyn (the first time). I recall sitting at my roommate’s communal computer, writing out the words that had been oozing out of me. I first read Kim Addonizio several years earlier after an older poet friend shared her work with me. When I picked her up again, I felt the reek of erotism from her poems pull at me. Even if she didn’t write back, I knew I had no choice but to write her. And. She wrote back.
A few years later, I was feeling ghostly. My body was sitting inside classrooms for an overpriced degree that just wasn’t doing it for me. It’s kind of like pursuing the most attractive person in a bar (or the most sober, cost-effective one with a rolling admission). And that person accepts you without hesitation. And you’re in. And you’re into each other.
Until their first word. And you notice their breath or odd jargon or or or. So, I was feeling uninspired and I sought out a writer/ performer/ beast I once saw in a land I used to live in. And this letter was long. And I wasn’t quite sure it would be answered. And. I heard back. This beast has been my mentor ever since.
Recently, I came across a writer who tore the hair out of my legs. This writer boiled my sweat and caused me to think even further about sexuality than I have been already. She turned me on, while also making me want to do the butterfly stroke inside my tears. I think about sending her a letter, but it just needs to be perfect…because what if I don’t get a letter back this time.
The thing is, it doesn’t matter. We need to be writing these letters. We need to tell these writers what we feel, the traffic accident on our bodies after reading their words.
If you wrote a poem or a sentence after reading something I wrote, I want to know. Because I am sitting in a metal chair, hunched over– occasionally aware that I should straighten my back– with a brown, borrowed blanket wrapped around my waist. I am typing on a computer held on a slab of wood, which was free because it was from the scrap pile at the hardware store on fifth avenue. I stained it red, then painted it in puffs of multi-colored paint on my rooftop, which is no longer mine because I no longer live at that particular address. To my right, is a see-through mug with earl grey tea interrupted with honey. To my left is a tall window illuminated by a string of purple lights purchased for $2 from my soul sister’s stoop sale. It is silent here, until I interrupt it with my voice or hear the slurp of tea plunge down my throat.
I could use a letter. I think we all could.