[This piece was written in 2005 for the Baltimore Public Libraries.]
I have learned that everything is text, and all we are ever doing is reading to understand:
At the thrift store, sifting through the aisles, the novels of other people's lives discarded, a public library of souls. In a new town, the unfamiliar streets and how high the buildings go. They are stacked upon each other like the bindings that hold together secrets, and each of us an author. Every picture and image that my mind records, every smell: the alleyway on my block, the sewer-ditch in Papine, the cold woods behind my parents' house. All we are ever doing is reading, even when we can't read words. I have certain essays memorized; some feel more like poetry. The walls of my childhood bedroom, plastered with magazine pages, paint, nails, collages. They are clean now, painted over pink by my parents after I moved out, but I know that story like the back of my hand because I lived inside of it. Like the bodies of some lovers, especially certain parts -- specific moles and hairs and birthmarks, specific ways they breathe in their sleep. My mother's left breast, post-mastectomy, because she used to let me watch her when she got dressed in the morning, and that was how I learned to read pain and disappointment. The poetry of her face as it transformed every day with rouge and lipstick and mascara and creams. I memorized that text a thousand times over and even tried to write it myself, but plagiarism never reads like the real thing. My own autobiographical self: the stretch marks and scars telling stories I've taught myself to forget, the historical-fiction I write in tattoos. Sometimes I let strangers sound me out -- because we are all only semi-literate the first time we are with somebody; because our skins are the great equalizers that put us all on the same page. Our skins the great dividers that categorize us, a Dewey decimal system that organizes our bodies into castes. We are all only semi-literate but have learned by heart th words we need to know. All we ever do is read, and we do it in the languages that define our understanding of the world. So sometimes the reading hurts -- it binds us to linguistic histories that we want only to escape. But sometimes -- and this is when all of our life-reading becomes worth the struggle -- sometimes it releases us. Because a library is a place for getting lost... libraries remind me of my surgery: the anesthesia takes me under, my body ceases to exist, and then the operators could have my heart, could disembowel me if they like. And when we come to we've lost track of time, and the past seems vague, like a bedsheet, like something we are wrapped up in for security and not out of practical necessity. All we are doing is reading, trying to grasp onto that security just before it slips into History. Trying to let got of that security before it pulls us into the Past, before our books close and we forget how to sound out the words and these texts become dispensable and overlooked, sitting in a box that reads 'FREE' on the corner of the pavement, waiting to be eaten up by the rain and mice.