Give me your tired your poor your books

It’s no secret I love old books.

I cry over them like they’re wounded, abandoned puppies crouching behind a garbage bin in the rain.

Sometimes I rescue them, but then have no use for them. (Again, like puppies.)

Often there’s a story behind the compulsion to save them.

I’ll save any Little House on the Prairie book I see, simply because I lost my original set of them in a flood. (For the same reason, I’m drawn to Choose Your Own Adventure.)

I’ll save many an illustrated children’s book from the 1960s because the art makes me want to shake my hips in a way I don’t know how.

I’ll save a book inscribed to Marty or to Catherine. Especially if it was inscribed before I was born.

I’ll save, on the rare occasion I find one, a COUPLES or a SISTERS or anything by Christopher Pike with the express intent to read them with my daughter when she’s 12.

I like old books.

I like to imagine the shelves they once sat in, the boats they traveled by, the author, the editor, the sweat poured into their being.

Which is why, when I discovered in the kibbutz giveaway pile a year ago a Scholastic Book of Poetry edited by Ann McGovern, I snatched it up and placed it on the saved books shelf on the top floor of my house.

It was a triple threat, quadruple even, the 1960s publication of a Scholastic book club book with its retro cover, with its pages filled with poems by ee cummings and Langston Hughes and Maxine Kumin and Basho, and peppered with adorable little one-color illustrations. For the cherry on top, there was editor Ann McGovern: a goddess of children’s books and someone I remember from my days as a young assistant at Scholastic. (What I didn’t know until after I completed the project below is that serendipitously McGovern also enjoys creating collage art.)

I’ve been meaning for some time to take a book from my saved collection and turn it into something new. So it serves a purpose other than collecting dust on the shelf. I got the idea after visiting a gallery in Jaffa last year. Passing a wall of framed art, I noticed one was simply a circa 1950s Dick and Jane book cover torn out, framed, and priced at 200 shekels. After I got over my shock that someone tore off a vintage book cover, put it in a frame, and priced it at 200 shekels, I realized, “Wait a minute. I just might buy that. I am someone who would buy something like that.” And if I would, others (with a lot more money to spend) would, too.

I didn’t decide then and there to start my own recycled books-as-art business, but I filed away the idea of it. I liked the prospect of saving old books from doom and turning them into new art. Thinking about it made me happy.

I’ve always loved creating collages. Looking back at old pictures of my childhood bedroom recently reminded me of this. Why not create collages with the old books I’ve saved?

Today, I dug in and created my first.

The process, I learned, is an art in and of itself. It was impromptu and yet fluid. I didn’t know exactly where I was going when I started, but when I went to the old books shelf and saw the Book of Poetry this morning, I knew that was the book to start with.

And so I sat in front of the patio door where the sun shines in brightest, and I read Frost and ripped.

Poetry Collage by Jen Maidenberg

Poetry Collage by Jen Maidenberg

 

I positioned Edna St. Vincent Millay and pasted her next to Paul Bunyan.

I made sure, too, Ann McGovern still got credit and that bits and pieces of the lovely retro cover remained.

And the result makes me happy. Like a rescued puppy brought in from the rain.

 

 

 

I Can’t Be Trusted

Don’t believe a word of it.
Not a letter.
Not even a space or a hard return.
None of it is to be trusted nor considered true.
At best, one or two or ten of my words will last longer than the quart of 1% cow’s milk shoved into a crusty corner of my ornery fridge.
I repeat; my song is sung in tune for the length of a long exhale.
After that, it’s expired.

I am hungry and so I hate food.
I am full and so the peach tree growing in my front yard is a gift.
I am tired and so I wish my children away from me.
I am rested and so my children are the suns and moons and stars and fairy dust of my existence.
I am needy and so my husband is my rock.
I am complete and so I want to run away.
I am pretty and so I strut the city streets.
I am old and so I hide in a darkened room behind the pages of a paperback.
I am smart and so I shout all my wisdom and thrust forward my chest.
I am a fool and so I cry the tears of someone who wasted her life away.
I am loved and so I write a poem.
I am lost and so I write a poem.

123 days

There are 123 days left until 40.

1 – 2 – 3

and like that I will be

Over the Hill.

Which hill?

The hill there

footsteps away?

The Tel?

Tell me.

Tel Hannaton through fence, by Jen Maidenberg

Tel Hannaton through fence, by Jen Maidenberg

It’s a curious time.

This tick tocking of clock

measured quietly

uncertain

alone

without labels I’ve grown accustomed to

a “Jean Val Jean” moment in time, says my husband.

“Who am I?”

1-2-3 and I will be 40.

Over the Hill.

Not Under it.

A blessing

Not dead becomes a blessing when

1-2-3

one is 40.

Remember when dead was unimaginable, unthinkable?

When youth was a fortress of solitude with its fangs sunk into the taut skin of our necks?

Sure, there was always AIDS hanging over our upper middle class halos.

And a little bit of cancer.

But now there is cancer

of everything.

It ate away at the fangs of youth — replaced them

Sunk into Breast. Stomach. Skin.

Now, there is the echo of anomaly

Brain. Lung. Ovary.

“What’s that?”

A tag. A growth. A lump.

1-2-3 and you become

Much too aware.

Too much care taken in the shower

soaping up lathering up the sides of once-breasts

Too much care taken in the reflection

smoothing sprouting silver down

Too much care taken in front of a lens

facing right, facing left, facing the side with less shadows.

Filter me.

1 – 2 -3 until 40.

Over Under but what about

On the Other Side

Kibbutz House by Jen Maidenberg

Kibbutz House by Jen Maidenberg

I hold out hope

that walking through the door of 40

is like opening the front door of the Gale farm

after a wicked storm.

1-2-3

technicolor works its magic

and life becomes more richly lived

in never before seen hues of

yellow green and blue.

* * *

 

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