I heard one morning while sipping coffee through the din of the morning news that marriages fail because of false expectations. These portrayals abound described through portrayals of romance in movies, books and television. I want to connect, to share the books I read, to have a purpose again. Like Snow White, I have been too long asleep. Commitment to be awakened by its own kiss.
At the library, when the woman asked for a title with all copies checked out. She was exasperated. Not sleeping? Not reading? Not remembering?
Her urgency pounded on the desk. “I just need a book to relax.” To relax.
I suggested a title to her more than I ask. After reading the summary, she carried it away.
My colleague found me later sifting through shelves for other book requests, the waiting list for words.
The same patron strode away with another book under her arm. Had she expected too much? Or, more? More words.
My eyebrow raised. “Did she want another book?” I asked.
“She came back to the desk. Opened the book and said, ‘Did you look at what’s in this book?’” Now my colleague asked me, “Did you know it looked like poetry?”
“Verse,” barely escaped my lips.
“You should really warn people.” My colleague turned away.
Books in verse are hardly laden with the metaphor of the unhelpful kind. The sparse shape focuses attention, does not distract, does not confuse. Verse is practical, like a marriage. Like what comes after when time is less, but commitment needs to be more. A happy ending? In that book she won’t find one.
But, what exactly is rotten? Me, or the story? Warn them? I drop my head. Like Orson Wells, I am a poor ambassador anyway.
Snow White had black hair. Red lips to match the rose between her teeth or tucked in wisps of hair. White dyes easily with blood. Blood spent and spilled. Shiny paper. Gift wrapping. Covering. Shiny wrapping may be skin. Warn them? About what? Messages in fewer words? Spaces. Pauses. The appearance of poetry that seeks a conversation. Poetry. Sleep. Sleep is a space. Poetry asks you to address your gaps.
Turn off but one light. Dark shadows each fleshy curve and straight line written. I read before I go to bed. Bright covers. Newly bound books. Three books. They are not afraid of color. They are more than one color, more than two, the white and red blotch of lost virginity. Each embody shiny paper of the metal kind that cuts. Shiny apples not betraying their insides until you bite.
At present. Disillusionment with romance. The first notes of tango vibrate. Relevance aches in the spaces left by an arched foot in heels. Legs outstretched, heating under sheets, I turn to shift away from the workout written by someone else, seemingly towards nothing.
Jazz Owls: a novel of the Zoot Suit Riots by Margarita Engle
World War II navy sailors spend final nights on U.S. soil in Los Angeles on their way to the front. A favorite source of entertainment is music, dance. Mexican American girls who spend their days working in canneries, jitterbug with the sailors. One family is consumed by the effects of racial violence and modified histories told, retold and condoned by soldiers, policemen and journalists. The cool, loose zoot suits are supposedly the reason for the violence, but it’s not the fabric color that offends, but the color of their skin.
Long past. Hidden histories that teach me my ancestor’s past in my recent one in the most simplest of misunderstandings that of mispronunciation of a name. The same shore from which Engle wrote the navy sailors departed saw the arrival of ships loaded with kidnapped citizens of Peru, Guatemala, and Brazil who could trace their heritage to Germany, Italy and Japan. They arrived with stories, histories, no papers. They were told to leave their papers. Undocumented. Diaspora. Strangers without the desert.
Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees In Cuba by Margarita Engle
Daniel escaped Nazi Germany with nothing. New York turns away his ship full of refugees, and Daniel finds himself in Cuba. Even as he waits for permission to leave the ship, he dreams that he might one day find his parents again. His nightmare is that he will lose who he is, beginning with the pronunciation of his name. David questions the choices of an older Russian immigrant who appears to have traded his histories for the tropical island’s fruits and music. Only time and his desire to ease the transition of more recent refugees allow him to escape his fears.
Opposite shores, Atlantic shores saw ships like David’s turned back, still full. Jewish heritage stamped in red. Papers, colored papers, money sewn into clothes. Closed pockets ripped open, cloth and bodies still too thin to be allowed ashore. Germans jailed with Jews. Documented. I read the author’s note. Margarita has Jewish roots and Spanish language dreams, like me. I like her. I can still love me. And the “strangers” who suffer are not strangers. Hair as black as ebony. Skin as white as snow. The fairy tale complexion belongs to our combined image.
Future? Official texts. The reoccurring prince. I spent what seemed a lifetime professionally becoming someone no one really knew, because it would have meant admitting all the underbelly of what princesses never sew into that pure, white wedding gown. I feared a witch’s costume under there. Tight, so very tight, getting smaller on my frame making me believe the scale, weight gain year after year into midlife. Other bits of me might ooze out when I least expected. Where would I put them? I didn’t ask, because that would have acknowledged that they were there. If no one else was asking, I was the only who didn’t know. So they just fell away, and then me, the real me, fell away after. I lived in the fraction that still fit the dress. Until I resew a smaller version, a dyed version, acknowledging the weight only water from unjustly divided resources, from sweat not yet spent. But, Wiesel reminds. God, in fact, is in the question.
Witness: Lessons from Eli Wiesel’s Classroom by Ariel Burger
In this thought-provoking, and inspiring book, Ariel Burger invites the reader into Elie Wiesel's classroom, where the art of listening and storytelling conspire to keep memory alive. As Wiesel's teaching assistant, Burger gives us a front-row seat witnessing these remarkable exchanges connected to personal stories, cultural canons and traditional texts in and out of the classroom.
“Happy ending” is really only a beginning, and no one really knows of what or how much work, struggle and intentional choice becomes a part of success, and not success of the zenith kind, but longevity. Longevity in teaching means. . . Spaces? Yes. Gaps? Yes. Poetry? Yes. Neither my past nor present are fairy tales, but they may be poetry.
I have a partner. Yes, it is the system, like books, square and made to fit upright on shelves. But I feel its pressure. I can maneuver its words, its spaces to project beauty. I can teach others to do the same. If you are truly hungry, an apple is enough. I am not the princess nor the queen, but the apples are in my hand, in my basket, and memories made and retold, should be mine.
For more wonderful videos related to teacher training or literacy program development in rural Guatemala, please visit www.child-aid.org. I have no v...