Archive | Book Matters

Painting at Audre’s: Part II

This is the second and final installment of an essay that I began earlier this spring. It is a window into my book, to which I’ve been slowly returning as the world is too rapidly opening back up.
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NYC has opened back up, and the smell of fresh paint suffuses every block, a top note to the concentration of garbage piling up on sidewalks, weed clouding every corner. For every person fleeing their Covid cave for fresher air and wider horizons, another is claiming a new base for big-city dreams, 16 months delayed.

It all involves an awful lot of fresh paint.

Some associate this scent with toxicity—chemicals, ill health, colonization. For me, it’s a gateway to an autumn four decades ago, when Audre resurfaced and the world first opened up.

Really, it was simple. One day Audre called up, and the following Friday, without disclosing any of the long-awaited details of their conversation, my mother whisked Jennie and me into Cambridge, where Audre had rented a long apartment on a tree-lined block between Central and Inman Square. It didn’t occur to any of us to bring my father because he never strayed from his Friday routine: popcorn, tea, computer manuals, sports radio, and bed at 8:30. Of course now substitute poetry for manuals and 70s film for sports radio and my routine is not that far off, but back then his diurnal rhythms seemed the ultimate in passive domination.

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Still Growing in Brooklyn

Today, for the first time in 12 months, I went to my local library, which only reopened last week. It’s the branch featured in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and I love it so much that I’ve run a free cinema club in its basement for local retirees. (Lots of Fred and Ginger.) The setup is still bare bones–you can only return books and pick up ones that you’ve reserved in advance–but just stepping into its atrium was so joyful that I burst into tears as soon as I sniffed its familiar scent of paste and paper. “Our favorite patron returns!” sang one librarian as I took a masked bow. But besides bragging about my library celeb status (arguably the highest status of them all), the reason I am sharing this story is because I wanted to confess I pulled a total Grace Paley. Which is to say: dropped off Reckless Daughter, David Yaffe’s biography of Joni Michell–and then immediately checked it back out. Apparently a year is not long enough to absorb the beautiful mystery that is Joni. Hello, my life.

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy