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Turning into Smoke

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“It’s not easy turning into smoke.” My sixteen-year old eyes glossed over the words, cross legged in the poetry section of a Barnes and Noble that I had begged my father to take me to while we were in Newington. There wasn’t one in Portland anymore, and the Borders had closed down. In its place was a new bookstore, but the smell wasn’t the same anymore, and neither was the aura and comfort that the books created. Two teenagers whispered to each other behind me, searching for a book for a school project. I waved the noise away like a fly around my head, immersing myself completely into the book in my lap.

It was Dean Young’s Bender, and I’ll admit that I had originally only picked it up because the abstract art on the front drew my eyes; even as a child, I was always a bit more on the artistic side than the logical side. As I flipped the book over to read the back, I caught the first line of his poem, Street of Sailmakers, and I was stuck. The words rolled around in my mouth like marbles. I didn’t know how long I had been waiting for that exact collection of syllables to describe a feeling that I had so frequently, but never could put a name to until then. It was like coming home after being away for a long time; everything was the same, but it felt different because you were different, because the series of events between your departure and that moment changed you, and now the world was a slightly brighter color, or the grass felt a little different beneath your feet.

I read the whole poem three times, trying to impress the letters into my memory, and keep them there, but they always flew away, dust in the wind, before I could quite catch them. Those two teenagers had really started to bother me; their whispers were white noise in my ears when I just wanted to be alone with the poem and the feeling that it gave me. I flipped through the rest of it, skimming over words. My fingers itched for a highlighter. I wanted to mark it up, write in the margins, paint my insight on the pages. I needed to make it my own.

I bought the book, and as my family chattered to each other in the truck on the way home, I sat curled up in the back with the window cracked, head rested on my seatbelt, reading. This was the first poetry book that I had started reading on the very first page, and continued reading cover to cover, never getting bored with his poems. They were like lullabies to me. I had been writing my own poems since I was eleven, and I had purchased and read the works of many other poets, but this was different. I felt like he knew me, like each line was a secret between the two of us, melting into my soul like hot fudge. He inspired me, truly, deep down to my bones.

I couldn’t wait. I dug my fingers into my pocket and pulled out my phone, sketching out a rough draft of a new poem that was swirling in my head, crawling up my throat. I let the words run out of me like wet paint, trying not to think too much. I wanted it to be raw, rough around the edges. Not perfect, but beautiful because it was messy, because I was messy. I was struggling through adolescence, and I had never found a more accurate representation of the way that felt, the way I could be happy and sad and angry all at the same time, and how confusing that could be. I bled onto paper, cried onto it, crossed things out, tore it up in frustration, and then wrote it again five seconds later. I wrote about the deepest parts of me, things I had never revealed to anyone.

When I was finished, I felt like I had emotionally and mentally run a marathon, in July, with no water, but I could have cried with relief. The only words that can describe that feeling after that poem was finished, is that a felt like a writer. I was so proud of Reflections, I wanted to scream it from the roof of my house, or tattoo it on my skin for everyone to see.

I carried that book everywhere, tucked inside my purse with my extra contacts and gray beanie. My friends and family read Streets of Sailmakers, but it held a magic to me that it didn’t to them. To them, it was a relatively well-written poem. To me, it was the first day of summer, or that feeling you get when you taste comfort food on a day when no light shines through to your heart. It was my security blanket, the constant reassurance that I was not walking alone.

I didn’t know the exact way he had intended for it to be perceived, but that was the beauty of it. It became whatever I needed it to be in that moment. Young’s work evoked a hunger in me, an unquenchable thirst for poetry. So many doors swung open because of Bender; I would go to the poetry sections of bookstores and sit on the floor, and just read, completely immersing myself in the works of Jack Kerouac, Margaret Atwood, Sylvia Plath, and Marukumi. I cried over Rumi’s Big Red Book, and blogged about how Hafiz made me feel like I had been turned inside out, if that makes sense. As a teenager struggling with clinical depression, on days that I couldn’t muster up of the strength to get out of bed, I would lay in a pile of blankets and read Whitman, The Smiths playing quietly in the background. Books were like Prozac to me. For a couple hundred pages, I wasn’t me anymore, I was just a piece of the wind, watching a story unfold.

And I wrote. I poured my heart into my notebook until it was nearly full of poems, some of them good, some of them not so good. It was my escape when life got to be too much for me to handle. People left me, but Poe was always right where I left him when I picked him up again, never begrudging me for the time that passed between readings.

A part of me, deep in my stomach, longed to be a writer. I didn’t just want to write, I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to live for my art, I wanted to leave a footprint on some sixteen year old’s heart in a bookstore somewhere. I wanted to be dirt poor in a city that never slept, and scribble out my stories by lamplight at 2AM, with Chai tea and Pink Floyd to keep me company.

I knew from the age of sixteen that I would not be happy any other way. I wrote in class; while my classmates did quadratics, I wrote haikus. I stayed up insanely late doing homework so that I could write during the day. It was a passion, an obsession only other writers could understand. I needed it like water, like oxygen. It kept my heart beating, quite literally. As I stood on the edge of suicide, it was my work that kept me from stepping into the black so many times.

Books stacked up in my bookshelf, and then overflowed and stood in piles around my room. Other girls had closets stuffed with clothes; I had books. As my sister grew and developed her own love for reading, I passed them down to her. She didn’t like poetry, but I gave her Girl, Interrupted and Pride and Prejudice, hoping she loved them as much as I did.

The prompts at school bored me, and I never wrote to the best of my ability, working to get them done fast so I could write something I enjoyed, or just not doing them at all, too busy with what I was working on at the moment. By the time I was facing summer in my junior year of high school, I had written enough poems to publish a book of them, but most of them I didn’t think were worthy, so I kept working.
I write what I feel, I write what the inside of my head looks like. I write like what fire looks like, consuming anything that comes into contact with it. I know that deep down, I was born to write, and that it’s the only thing I’d like to do for the rest of my life. If someday, a sixteen year old picks up my book, and feels like for a couple minutes, they were inside my head, if I made them feel like they weren’t alone for just a second, then I’ve become more successful than the richest businessman in the world, and no amount of money could ever live up to the happiness, and satisfaction that that would bring me, as a writer, and as a person.

***
?Reflections?
I am
Lost in the wind
Somewhere between the notes
That the Smiths
Brought to life one
Lonely night
Listening to my father’s
Old albums
and humming quietly along.
I am pieces of you
And of me
And of the earth
The sky
painted blue
Doesn’t do it any justice
I found me
Somewhere within
The dog eared pages
Of dean young’s Bender
the first book
That made me want
To write my mind
On the walls
On the ceiling
To paint it in the air
And be raw
In a beautiful way.
I am
Your savior and
Your broken heart
And I am
Sorry
That I couldn’t be
Yours because
I needed to be
Mine.
I am
young
but not
At the same time.
Time is a concept
That humans created,
And what if I don’t want
To be defined in two digits
Or five letters
Or one action
That I should regret
But don’t
Because it was exactly
What I wanted at that time.
I am lines of poetry
that sang me to sleep
On nights that I
Had nobody to do so.
they watched me fall apart
And never judged
Like you did.
I am daydreams
And nightmares
And stories I could never tell
That sit in me
Like pebbles
They add and add
until my stomach is
Full to the brim.
I struggle
And cry
And tear it up
Five thousand times
As I try
To replicate
The exact feeling
I felt in that moment
But all that comes back
Is the reflection in puddles
Because the story is not the same
And neither am I.




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