Saturday, July 01, 2006

Book To Reader, In Love

No, I didn't write this. But I wish I did. I was the inspiration for it, in a way. In my first year of law school, I was sad to lose my vocation as evocation English major lifestyle (where reading for pleasure/reading for school often dovetailed the way that reading for pleasure/reading for a law review article do not). So sad was I that I wrote a terrible poem about the love of literature, and how difficult to say "goodbye," to a lifetime devoted to the contemplation of belles lettres. There is a reason, by the way, I chose Belle Lettre as my pseudonymous name. I am not incapable of writing decent poetry, but that definitely wasn't an example of decent poetry (and by decent I mean not excessively effusive, clumsy in its use of language, and awkward in sentiment). No, this is a poem by a real poet, not a drive-by weekend poet.

I used to wish I were my anonymous poet friend, in her master's program in creative writing. I don't seriously regret going to law school over English literature graduate school or political science graduate school. And I definitely don't regret not pursuing creative writing. I think I've written 5 decent poems in my life, one of which was published. And no decent prose, which is what I thought I would be good at. If only there were a way to make money at writing long, ruminative essays without being David Sedaris or Sarah Vowell. No, I do not regret my failed career as a novelist or poet. I haven't written a poem for years now, and I haven't attempted a short story since longer.

Read the following, and you'll see why. Once I read this, there was no editing/rewriting in the world that could have changed the original bad poem to match this one's lyrical beauty. This very much reminds me of Roethke, but with a bit of whimsical Billy Collins too (and don't mock me, you poetry elitists, there is beauty in Collins' nostalgia). I do wish you could see the original love poem, to which this is the epistolary response. (then again, I wish it didn't suck). But Marlowe's Shepherd didn't receive a reply from Raleigh's Nymph until a year later. Perhaps a year from now, the original letter will turn up somewhere, stuck between the leaves of some book.

Book to Reader, In Love

Don't kid yourself.
A love affair of the mind is nothing to take lightly.
You and I stared at each other for hours,
that summer, or fall.
We retreated to the unlikeliest locations,
just for a little privacy.
We felt so understood.

Remember it at least as tenderly
as you might any other romance,
because even if the printed words
never kissed you back,
I'm sure you remember the tiny breeze on your face
as you turned each page,
remember anticipating and still being surprised.

Don't forget me.
When I dream, while the dust settles,
I rearrange my letters to spell out your name.
I live quietly but close
In the back of your mind,
On the backs of your eyelids,
Undercurrent to a conversation.

Now and again,
you'll catch yourself
with one foot in the air,
with half a sentence stuck to your lower lip,
and across a crowded room
we'll reconnect.
Ah!, you'll say, like the afternoon breeze
that first time you walked back from the library by yourself.

It's you, and how are you here?

Didn't we have an appointment in Samarra?

I think it was in Tolstoy's winter.

Oh, yes, I'll say.
That was it.


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