At a dinner with Faith and Terry at least four years ago—(a dinner I think about a lot for a lot of reasons) (do you have one of those?)—we started talking about cookbooks. And how cookbooks use food to talk about everything except food, which is usually a story of the person’s life. “Have you ever read a cookbook with just the recipes?” I think Faith asked. “No! It’s always like, I was a six year old in the New Hampshire countryside when my great aunt Cecilia would bake these cinnamon-glazed almond muffins.” I’m paraphrasing. But I’m telling you this because this newsletter is my cookbook. My bookbook. I chose booklight because I liked how much it sounded like nightlight, which has the kind of care-comfort-welcome-sleep vibes I’m invested in, but also because almost every etymology I looked up of the word “book” (English book, Arabic كِتاب, Korean 책) went back to the materials they were made of. Bamboo strips, beech bark, rock and rune. That probably means something about language that’s too big to put in words so I won’t poke at it today but gesture loosely by keeping the word near. Hello, welcome to booklight where I am writing to you about books. Where I am writing to you in light.
So I use books to talk about my life and I use life to talk about my books. When does a book become mine? On Twitter, there was discourse I did not pay attention to and which does not bear repeating or explaining but I will say that I skimmed a thread by someone very smart on it and then another one and in both, I’m struck by the pivot from empathy, empathy as ownership. If I say that when I love a book = it becomes mine = there’s something about possession in there that feels very CIA-approved MFA in me. Maybe I prefer to become the book’s. Given how Poppy War has been living rent-free in my prefrontal cortex for the last three weeks, this bears weight. You know what else bears weight? This poem by Yaz Lancaster, which I have been repeating quietly to myself whenever anyone makes that joke. (Including me.) (Especially me.)
Eduardo told me once that if you make a rule as a poet, you’re bound to break it. You should break it, as that energy induces poesis in and of itself. So I am sure I will stray from books entirely at some point. I hope you’ll stay with me. I hope these letters take us somewhere new and we find things that surprise us both. Hope or trust? Fram told me something I have been thinking about a lot lately: an elder who shared an active choice of trust over hope. Kookum Alita Sauvé said, “There is a hole in hope. Things get lost in there. The cup of the u in trust holds things better. So I give my uncertainty to trust rather than hope.” I’m paraphrasing again—(is that a form of storytelling?) (is that the origin of storytelling?)—but when I read this interview about Alita I cried. When I spoke to her on the phone, my hands shook. It was two days before Christmas. Her home was full of children and she was making chicken bone soup. I don’t have any grandparents anymore. My parents are old and in another country. But Alita says, “You can’t get a degree in life” and a world of love I knew is right there, right next to me. A presence pressing in against the current of time, the tide of memory, whatever separates one moment from another. (Are worlds made of moments?) (Spacetime, lifetime, lovetime, lightime.)
When I spoke to Alita, and grief passed briefly through me, I did not know that grief would visit me again (always) just three days later. I’ve definitely never cried this much in my life. My sister’s neighbour’s dog barks and I cry. Someone in front of us orders a peanut butter cookie and I cry. A red ball on the curb? I cry. I’m dehydrated and my eyes are sore. But I make my way through the world and there she is. In this way, at least, she’ll never be gone.
We had a good year together. My sister said that when someone dies, you don’t just mourn their life but the life they made possible. I’m mourning a summer I can never return to. A world where I would read on the farm all morning, a giant puppy curled between my feet, chasing crows, chewing on chochworu, praying in the grass, going home to my parents, a beautiful garden, a soft bed.
See how I have written about everything except books? I love lying and I love failure. I love tricks and mistakes. I tell you all I’m going to send this on New Year’s Day but I send it out on New Year’s Eve. (I prefer the precipice to the fall.) I teach my niece and nephew how to play Bluff and then lie about lying because I want them to win. I think of this letter addressed to Eve Sedgewick.
So I will start with books next time, in necessity and abundance. The etymology of abundance is “to overflow.” The etymology of necessity is, Don’t go. Of course it’s about water, and coming and going. Twenty-seven years ago, Toni Morrison wrote, “All water has perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was.” I’m always spilling over, an attempt to return.