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Our Garden

  • Posted on: 5 April 2013
  • By: readersbooks

Chairil Anwar, Birds, Beasts, and Seas

Our garden
doesn't spread out very far, it's a little affair
in which we won't lose each other.
For you and me it's enough.
The flowers in our garden don't riot in color.
The grass isn't like a carpet
soft and smooth to walk on.
For us it doesn't matter
in our garden
you're the flower, I'm the bee
I'm the bee, you're the flower.
It's small, it's full of sunlight, this garden of ours,
a place where we draw away from the world and from people.

Who Is That On Your Lap?

  • Posted on: 4 April 2013
  • By: readersbooks

Francesco Marciuliano, I Could Pee on This

There’s another cat in the house
A cat I’ve never seen
A much younger cat
You seem to know her name
You accidentally called me by her name
Right in front of the lamp
And my friend the throw pillow
I’ve never been so humiliated
I may never love again

My Hero

  • Posted on: 3 April 2013
  • By: readersbooks

Billy Collins, Horoscopes for the Dead

Just as the hare is zipping across the finish line,
the tortoise has stopped one again
by the roadside,
this time to stick out his neck
and nibble a bit of sweet grass,
unlike the previous time
when he was distracted
by a bee humming in the heart of a wildflower.

Section 8 of “Flare” in The Leaf and the Cloud: A Poem (Da Capo Press, 2000)

  • Posted on: 2 April 2013
  • By: readersbooks

The poem is not the world.
It isn’t even the first page of the world.
But the poem wants to flower, like a flower.
It knows that much.
It wants to open itself,
like the door of a little temple,
so that you might step inside and be cooled and refreshed,
and less yourself than part of everything.
—Mary Oliver

On Giving and Taking

  • Posted on: 31 March 2013
  • By: readersbooks

I've been thinking about tips and discounts lately, and what they
might say about us as a society. Every Tuesday, it seems, I find myself
at the checkout counter in Sonoma Market, and when my few pitiful
purchases make their way to the man or woman standing at the cash
register I am impelled to say something like, "It's Tuesday, and I am an
elderly person." They have yet to quibble with me about this, so I
assume they agree and then. almost magically, my bill is reduced by 10%.
The truth is I don't really need a discount on Tuesday, but I can
justify it any number of ways. Maybe they're doing this out of respect
for the elderly, or maybe there are a disproportionate number of older
folks who are living close to the edge, and this is Sonoma Market's way
of dishing out a little justice, or maybe it's not about justice at all.
Maybe they're just looking to increase customer loyalty and market
share, and old people have to eat, don't they?

The same vague arguments can be applied to tipping in this
culture. We typically tip waiters and waitresses and shoe shiners, also
limo drivers and hair dressers, although the latter sometimes make a
fair amount of money. When we lived in Japan it was considered rude to
tip a waiter or a cab driver; what they charged was what they got and to
be given more implied--I don't know--that you thought they were doing
more than their level best and deserved extra credit, even though in
their mind they were always doing their level best. It was, in short,
an insult to the way they lived.

I'm not suggesting discounts and tips are "wrong," but I've
never been able to figure out the rationale. We don't have a tip jar at
Readers' Books, even though everyone here works like dogs for little
money and offers (I think) a real and valuable service, pointing folks
to just the right book. And we tried, you may remember, offering
discounts through our Readers' Regulars cards, those yellow things some
people still wax nostalgically over, but that was costing us thousands
of dollars each year and when the recession kicked in that was one of
the very first things we had to jettison.

I have a cousin who is a lawyer, and he spends his day billing
folks almost every time he opens his mouth. It's $300 an hour or if he
only talks for six minutes or less, it's $30. I'm sure his advice is
valuable, but does it compare with me telling someone why they should
read the new Kent Haruf novel, Benediction, or Marisa Silver's splendid story, Mary Coin?
Why do we often toss a dollar or two into a street musician's guitar
case and a minute later pass by a homeless beggar with our hands firmly
in our pockets? Somebody tell me, please, I'd really like to know.


If You Want to Know Why this Night is Different from All Other Nights, I'll Tell You

  • Posted on: 23 March 2013
  • By: readersbooks

At sundown, this coming Monday, Passover begins once again, as it has, for lo, thousands of years. Jews all over the world will sit down together to eat and to remember how it felt to be liberated from Egyptian slavery. And even though this happened very long ago, we are nevertheless instructed to think of it as if it happened to us; we are supposed to somehow transcend time, embrace the freedom of our ancestors and make it our own.

For me, Passover is akin to Thanksgiving: friends and family come together, there's lots of food (except for Yom Kippur there's always food on Jewish holidays), everyone gets to hear what all the children and grandchildren are up to, old stories are retold for the umpteenth time, and the sentiment flows copiously. When I was growing up it was also an occasion for epic arguments about the nature of slavery in ancient times and how it related to oppressed people in modern times. Some folks add salt and pepper to their meal; we do that, too, but we often add a little argument as well to make it more interesting.

I recall one Passover in particular at my brother's house. Our old friend, Henry Sharp, was there, and after we went over the part in the Seder where we talk about going forth from Egypt as if we were the one being freed, Henry spoke quietly and with great eloquence. This Passover, he said, is special for me. Why? Because in 1945, on this exact date, I actually was set free from the concentration camp in Poland. So those words you just finished reading, they're not just words, they have a sweetness to them I understand and I remember very well.

There were tears in our eyes, and there were no arguments that evening. We ate and talked and sang the old songs we always sang. And afterwards, thanks to Henry, we all just basked in the glow of our newly realized freedom. It doesn't get any better than that.