My writing is dappled sunlight sifting through buckeye trees on an autumn Saturday morning. It’s blood on the concrete in the church parking lot on that day when no one was coming to the rescue. The sound shifts without warning from the murmuring one makes while holding a newborn baby to the howling of brakes as a train comes to a full stop on tracks alongside the Erie canal. It’s grass so green it hurts your eyes. The edges are wet paper in a heavy downpour, icy raindrops big enough to sting your skin.
My first literary love was story. The Wind in the Willows, Little House on the Prairie, A Wrinkle in Time, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Gone with the Wind. As a young girl, I carried a paperback book everywhere I went, stealing sentences, paragraphs, and if I were really lucky, entire chapters as the day marched forward. The summer I turned twelve, I volunteered for the library’s youth reading program and I felt like a powerful princess each time I walked through the glass doors and pinned on my badge. I didn’t yet know that the town was small, the library woefully underfunded, and the high school graduation rate dismal.
For the next several summers, I volunteered and when I wasn’t busy with the children, I buried myself in the stacks. I decided to read every book in the young adult section in alphabetical order but when I got to the B’s, I had to stop. We were a town of corner bars, bonfires, and Saturday parades build upon the foundation of football and baseball, in that order. I’m fifty years old and almost a continent away but I still remember that there were 37 baseball books and that was a chasm I was unwilling to cross.
I kept reading. I became aware of the Holocaust and read everything I could find on the topic. I stayed awake too late, suspended in horror and sorrow while the cold seeped in around the windowsill and turned my nose to ice. I had already learned firsthand that people were cruel but the scope of it, the sweeping blindness of it, the factual nature of the words on the page, tore my heart into pieces.
Then poetry found me. I was seventeen and had taken a a wild adventure, a bus downtown to the main library. It had three floors, escalators, and throngs of homeless people camped outside on the front walk. I wandered through the dry smell of books for hours, my bag growing heavier and the sun slanting through the floor-to-ceiling windows. The poetry stacks were heavy with classic American poets. Walt Whitman, W.S. Merwin, Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, e.e. cummings. I’d probably read poetry in school, but that was the day a furtive relationship with poetry began and would never end. How I ended up there I don’t recall but I sat on the smooth concrete floor with books piled around me and read for hours. In order to observe the book checkout limit, I emptied my enormous bag of my previous selections and filled it with poetry instead. I still love a good story, but poetry is my constant companion and the form that my writing most often takes. My writing was born in a library.