As this is the first day in my new apartment in Harlem, which is to say, a day ripe with the peculiar smell of recently packed moving boxes being opened, a day of walking around with a box cutter in my pocket, a day of waiting for the couch to arrive and attempting to be patient while the cable man sets up my internet connection only realize he left the modem somewhere in the Bronx, I feel a little silly to be typing this blog post.
You see, I’m sitting on the edge of my bed with my Macbook on my lap (there’s no where else for it to sit while I type) and I am surrounded by half opened packing boxes. Really, the blog could wait except – well, I just opened the first two moving boxes full of books and the sense of joy that quite literally swept through me was such that I had to stop what I was doing and write about it. It felt that good.
Let me tell you about the first box, or as I labeled it for the movers, “The Box of Crucial Books.” I decided that if space was limited, I should be able to narrow my collection down to a group of books that I could not live without, or rather – a group of books that have taught me to live.
Here’s that group in its entirety: Sula, Jazz, Beloved, Playing in the Dark by Toni Morrison. (At the moment, I can’t seem to find my copy of Song of Solomon which is a bit stressful but we shall overcome.) Giovanni’s Room and Another Country by James Baldwin as well as James Baldwin’s Collected Essays (edited by Toni Morrison.) A Raisin the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry, Invisible Man and Flying Home by Ralph Ellison as well as his Collected Essays, the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Freedom in This Village by edited by E. Lynn Harris, When Harlem Was in Vogue by David Levering Lewis, Ceremonies by Essex Hemphill, The Watsons Go To Birmingham – 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis, Outlaw Culture by bell hooks, I Put A Spell on You by Nina Simone, Sweet Tea by E. Patrick Johnson and Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty edited by Andrew Bolton.
Those books are in my bones. The second group (which I am still in the process of unpacking – literally and metaphorically) is my flesh: poems. Among the poets that have already made it onto the shelf are Ai, Mahmoud Darwish, Louise Gluck, Robert Fagles, Anne Carson, Patricia Smith, Brian Turner, Audre Lorde, Reginald Shepherd, Yusef Komunyakaa. And those are just the first few books I pulled out of the box.
Of course, there is a body politic at work here. The demographic of my “crucial books” is not lost on me, but that’s not what I wanted to tell you here. What I wanted to tell you is that for the last month I have been working through the reality of living without my mother on this earth and all the madness that realization and the ensuing grief have entailed, but – for a brief moment today – I put some books on my shelf and felt accompanied rather than alone; somehow joyfully watched over and beckoned to continue. What a feeling. That’s what I wanted to tell you. I had a feeling that, with these books, I was not alone.