Friday, June 12, 2020


The third shelf is one of contemplation. Titles mostly, and a single 2x4 inch pillar candle set on a holder of black wrought iron. Where to go from here? So many stories in those details alone. That’s the beauty of most of my possessions; their worth is primarily in the stories each elicits.

I pause here, because I want to assure you that I do not fetishize my own poverty. I’ve recognized over the decades of living simply that I do so with pride. Not for the ascetic discipline, but for the joy offered in small things. Joy enough. Plenty. The poor cannot be held accountable for the comfort they find in minimalism. The minimalist movement is more about fluid monetary means rather than necessity. The only time I groan over the weight of my possessions is when I am forced to move yet again. The books. Boxes and boxes. And I am proud of those. When they were young I told my children that there is always enough money for another book. Irony would have it, the majority of my volumes were passed along by others who wished to free up shelf space. I have done the same. Downsizing material goods happens naturally as children reach adulthood and move on to survive on their own. This past year I donated four or five boxes of children’s literature to my youngest son’s school. It was a bittersweet parting. My heartstrings still vibrate knowing that this part of my life is gone; the hours upon hours of reading aloud to my children at bedtime, napt-ime, whenever they wanted. Books are my wealth. I don’t know much of anything beyond the grave, but if any luggage were allowed I believe I could take my stories with me. I do not feel poor, even though I subsist entirely on public assistance and the charity of friends and family. Oh, if only. I have a million stories to tell. If only a dollar for each, a dime. So let me offer what I have. Let me impart. This is all I have to give.

I forget how long I’ve carried this candle. Nineteen years at least. Besides books we can never have enough light. Its pedestal reminds me of the balcony of my childhood home, of the acquisition of building supplies in Mexico, of tile shops and marble turtles, of watching glassblowers, of flea markets, of my earliest crimes of theft, of apprehension, of restitution. I will stop there. You see how many tales? I know I’ve lit this candle a number of times, because what is a wick if not for burning? My mother never lit her candles, although I sometimes did even knowing the severity with which she doled out consequences. There’s another story; my fascination with fire. Another time. Another time. This particular candle has migrated from piano top to a small bookshelf that dissembled and reassembled in several of my residences to this third shelf of my bookcase now. When lit, it gives off a light vanilla scent. The three slender legs of the holder curve outward, and then bow toward each other ending in spirals on which the holder stands. These graceful curves are similar to the railing design that skirted the balcony of that childhood maze. I wasn’t allowed onto the balcony for a number of reasons. No one used it except for the kestrels that nested in the eaves, and the bats that lived in the attic, and every so often a girl when she was left alone, which was often. The balcony was easily accessed through the French doors in the room adjacent to mine, although stepping out onto the unfinished weathered wood required cared not to come away from the sneaking with slivers in the bottoms of my feet. But I wander.

As for authors on this particular shelf, I note Kerouac, Borges, Virginia Woolf, W.S. Merwin (only because it hasn’t found its way to my poetry shelf on another bookcase across the room), Sophocles, and more C.S. Lewis. The last is a collection of The Chronicles of Narnia, which I read to my children on Sunday afternoons after church meetings, one book at a time. We have had a rich life. I offered my little family a garden of poverty the worth of a thousand tales. Forgive me for the nostalgic self-indulgence. I lose myself. I am not yet dead, and I am already carrying my wealth in the next world.

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