Slam: A Box that Closes Deftly

Since before she could read
she got the letters screwed up

Bs and Ds and Qs and Gs
all flipped around
backwards

so that the words on the page
went swirling and whirling and twirling and it’s
no wonder the little girl took so long
to even speak

No wonder she got antsy on her mother’s lap
at night when it was time for stories
When the words swelled up from the pages
rising like symbols scrawled on a Tower of Babel
threatening to pierce the sky in her eyes
before they crumbled

She needed
a Rosetta Stone

But instead she had an impatient father who sighed when she cried
big burning tears of frustration
and a sister who took to books and education
and a mother with Hooked on Phonics Worked For Me
where the reward for straining for hours over computerized sounds
was a teddy bear named Butterscotch
and a sympathetic smile saying:
“See you next time. You will never get out.”

If it worked for me, went the fallacy, it should work for you
the lessons were power-drilled into her skull
like screws into a board against the grain
building a box that closes deftly
shutting her out from that City on a Hill
from books and their Babel
until they became the hated things
with strands of hair pressed into the pages
still with the roots that came out with fingers
shoved into her ears because she’d rather be deaf than have to listen to
one
more
syllable

And there were red-faced fights full of sighs and screaming
avoiding the sturdy spines of books as though they carried the plague
even though some of them really did
others were the keepers of defeat
of round, ragged-edged ponds that warped the words
creating swamps and mires blighted with midges
bookmarks that stayed in the same place for weeks
months
years

Libraries like catholic churches
imposing and ethereal
wardens of street corners and cemeteries
with sanctity wrought into the architecture
huge spires and blood-glass echoing with hymns meant to save the soul
drilled into skulls like screws into boards into boxes into the ground
not a place to go if you don’t know the stories
if you can’t
read the words

But then, when she was sixteen years old
that girl picked up a book and read it
and didn’t tell anyone
not a soul
not her mother with the Hooked on Phonics
not her father with the impatient sigh
not even her sister with the superiority complex
and all the words
the Bs and Ds and Qs and Gs
they fought and fell into place

To a city that doesn’t exist
and one that maybe does
a runaway and a bachelor
the first words he ever said to her
fire on the jagged edges of a river well traveled
the sun sinking behind the keels of wooden bobbers
and somebody has an idea about life
and about death
while somebody sings in the corner
coming in from the rain to drain boots full of wherever they’ve been

And after the last page
she let the back cover go

That girl
smiling
savoring the sound of it
closing deftly

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