Tuesday, December 21, 2010

mea culpa

Feeling the need to report on my lovely visit to Borders last night after bashing the the thought of it in my previous post.

I found a parking spot immediately. I saw a million books that I wanted to read. The store is really well-lighted, even - dare I say - cozy. They have a much better selection of Audio Books. I also ran into a friend who didn't seem to have nearly the hang up that I did. And finally, it is actually closer to my house than my old independent bookstore.

I am one step away from joining the fan club. This is good news.

Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Fox Books Redux

As I type this, I am currently on hold with the local Borders bookstore. Not my bookstore of choice, but the only choice right now. Weirdly, I just found myself experiencing a Meg Ryan moment out of You've Got Mail. Our local independent bookseller, Davis-Kidd, closes at the end of December (the stacks are a zoo), and so my only choice for a new book is the overwhelming chain bookstore with the undersized parking lot on the busiest section of Nashville road. Actually, come to think of it, Davis-Kidd had pretty much morphed into Borders by the time it decided to close. But there was something comforting about the fact that I could call them up and ask about any book, and the employee on the other end of the line would know more about that book than I did.

Today, my request to Borders for a particular memoir was cause for several transfers. No "A ha!" moments on the other end of the line, no commentary about my choice. They did find the book for me just now, but as I sat on hold I was reminded of the big chain bookstore drama in You've Got Mail. The scene that causes the most alarm is when Meg Ryan's character watches a clueless employee fumble for lack of knowledge in the childrens' book section. My friends with children are the most distraught about Davis-Kidd's closing; they had the best childrens' section of any bookstore in town.

Here's the thing: books are cause for intimacy. Why else would so many people belong to book clubs? Borders or Barnes & Noble or (god forbid I ever go in there again) Books A' Million are not places that cultivate intimacy.

I found this Linda Pastan poem several weeks ago, and I've been waiting for inspiration to post. After fighting the traffic, duking it out for a parking space, and finding myself numbed by the Borders aesthetic, I hope I'll still feel this way.

"The Bookstall" by Linda Pastan

Just looking at them
I grow greedy, as if they were
freshly baked loaves
waiting on their shelves
to be broken open – that one
and that – and I make my choice
in a mood of exalted luck,
browsing among them
like a cow in sweetest pasture.

For life is continuous
as long as they wait
to be read – these inked paths
opening into the future, page
after page, every book
its own receding horizon.
And I hold them, one in each hand,
a curious ballast weighting me
here to the earth.

Linda Pastan


The leaves are falling, falling as if from far up,
as if orchards were dying high in space.
Each leaf falls as if it were motioning “no.”

And tonight the heavy earth is falling
away from all other stars in the loneliness.

We’re all falling. This hand here is falling.
And look at the other one. It’s in them all.

And yet there is Someone, whose hands
infinitely calm, holding up all this falling.

~Rainer Maria Rilke

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Snow Poems

There is something about teaching freshmen that I like to believe keeps me young. This past week they dazzled me with their wonder over poetry; I felt the years slough off as they read and listened, star-eyed, to poems. I am a skeptic when it comes to other people and poetry. I don't generally believe they will want to enjoy it or will even try. At least, I know I didn't until after years of studying it. But I watched these students read poem after poem for the joy of it during class, and I felt as though I might burst. I felt the same thing a week earlier when they workshopped each others' poems, and wrote little sayings such as "I love whoever wrote this poem. I wonder why you didn't use any commas." I'm not making this up: they responded to each others' poems with an outpouring of love. That is the magic of poetry.

I think, sometimes, it is a lonely business, loving words and particularly poems. I suppose it's a bit like being a mathematician and loving theorems.

It is snowing in Nashville today. Here are two snow poems, the first of which a student found and read in class last week:

"Dust of Snow" by Robert Frost

"The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

"Walking Home from Oak-Head" by Mary Oliver

There is something
about the snow-laden sky
in winter
in the late afternoon

that brings to the heart elation
and the lovely meaninglessness
of time.
Whenever I get home - whenever -

somebody loves me there.
I stand in the same dark peace
as any pine tree,

or wander on slowly
like the still unhurried wind,
as for a gift,

for the snow to begin
which it does
at first casually,
then, irrepressibly.

Wherever else I live --
in music, in words,
in the fires of the heart,
I abide just as deeply

in this nameless, indivisible place,
this world,
which is falling apart now,
which is white and wild,

which is faithful beyond all our expressions of faith,
our deepest prayers.
Don't worry, sooner or later I'll be home.
Red-cheeked from the roused wind,

I'll stand in the doorway
stamping my boots and slapping my hands,
my shoulders
covered with stars.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

"Two Look at Two" by Robert Frost

Love and forgetting might have carried them
A little further up the mountain side
With night so near, but not much further up.
They must have halted soon in any case
With thoughts of a path back, how rough it was
With rock and washout, and unsafe in darkness;
When they were halted by a tumbled wall
With barbed-wire binding. They stood facing this,
Spending what onward impulse they still had
In one last look the way they must not go,
On up the failing path, where, if a stone
Or earthslide moved at night, it moved itself;
No footstep moved it. 'This is all,' they sighed,
Good-night to woods.' But not so; there was more.
A doe from round a spruce stood looking at them
Across the wall, as near the wall as they.
She saw them in their field, they her in hers.
The difficulty of seeing what stood still,
Like some up-ended boulder split in two,
Was in her clouded eyes; they saw no fear there.
She seemed to think that two thus they were safe.
Then, as if they were something that, though strange,
She could not trouble her mind with too long,
She sighed and passed unscared along the wall.
'This, then, is all. What more is there to ask?'
But no, not yet. A snort to bid them wait.
A buck from round the spruce stood looking at them
Across the wall as near the wall as they.
This was an antlered buck of lusty nostril,
Not the same doe come back into her place.
He viewed them quizzically with jerks of head,
As if to ask, 'Why don't you make some motion?
Or give some sign of life? Because you can't.
I doubt if you're as living as you look.'
Thus till he had them almost feeling dared
To stretch a proffering hand -- and a spell-breaking.
Then he too passed unscared along the wall.
Two had seen two, whichever side you spoke from.
'This must be all.' It was all. Still they stood,
A great wave from it going over them,
As if the earth in one unlooked-for favour
Had made them certain earth returned their love.