Written Thursday, 3/8/12.
[ Part 1 ]
I want to tell you about Ginsberg, and Thoreau, and Dickinson (whose name I always misspell), and Billy Collins most of all – how I came to love poetry again. But I first must tell you about how it all started. It all started on Tuesday the sixth. Jane posted on Billy Collins, and I was blindsided with the hunger to read his poetry. Billy Collins – the poet whose words I fell in love with over YouTube, the poet whom my friend introduced me to. It’s been a while since I last “read his work,” as they say. And I am surprised that, ten minutes later, I have three of his anthologies open on three separate tabs, me giddily reading along, skipping from tab to tab like the frenetic leaping of children on a summer lawn. I cannot quench the desire to laugh – the mad and uncontrollable bubbling of unadulterated glee – and so I laugh in silence, into my scarf, my chest shaking. Once, I giggled so hard that I was terrified my boss and co-worker would hear. But no sound came forth, and I was glad.
During lunch, I strode, no nonsense, into North Beach. What a different place, I reflect, passing by the Scientology church. How it’s changed, I think, seeing empty storefronts. (There used to be a barber here. He smiled to me once, friendly-like, as he swung out tunes from his saxophone. Or was it his trumpet?) But maybe they’ll be back, I console myself, as these things sometimes do. There’s the Zoetrope. And the plaque bearing Francis Ford Coppola’s name – along with someone else’s but I’ve shamefully forgotten who. There’s the Condor – whatever that is – and an old woman. And two men who walk by, their coats and glasses glowing with the warmth of another time. I think about Ginsberg and the Beats – Beatniks, I hear you correct; I know – and how I can hardly believe that I am here, in 2012, walking in the shadow of the crazy ‘50s.
There’s a hush like the quiet of a cathedral as I step into the bookstore. City Lights – it’s been a while. But I am delighted to be back. Awkwardly, I smile hello to the cashier, and step around him as he helps a lost customer. I don’t need his help. I know exactly what I want. Up the stairs I go, the wood creaking like a ship, and I arrive, now slightly embarrassed because I see that I’m not alone up here. Two readers, reclining in chairs, look up at me. One woman smiles, but I barely return the greeting. No photographs today, I think as I lay my finger on Horoscopes for the Dead. But I decide again, and choose The Art of Drowning instead. And I return below with it in tow, hoping, wishing, for a quiet moment where I can whip out my point & shoot, and click. But there aren’t. The store is busy today, and I find people everywhere I turn. Just shoot anyway, I reason, it’s a famous place, after all. The guys must get it all the time from tourists. But I cannot muster the courage to do so. Maybe it’s the inner Frenchie in me – the woman who wants to be cool – or my pride, who thinks it a grave offense that I do anything tacky.
I pay for the book, and leave. But not without snapping a rather desperate, a rather pitiful photograph with my black-shod feet next to some quote by Ferlinghetti that, I later realized, doesn’t really make sense. Oh well, I breathe, walking back to work, to grey cubicle, to the heavily stained carpet. I have Billy Collins in my bag, and maybe there’ll be a next time, when I won’t be so shy – when I will actually stand with feet firmly planted, a smile on my face as I look up, aim, and shoot.
I missed this week’s “installment” for Just Write, but I thought to post this all the same. I’ll be on time next week, I promise.