On the final day of the Scholastic Book Fair, I walked into our school library with a packet of dollar bills folded over and crammed down into the mini-pocket of my imperfectly pegged, not-Guess-label bluejeans. You know, the front pocket inside the pocket--the one for super-important things. I had begged my mother for a little extra money. After The Baby-sitter's Club, after Encyclopedia Brown, after deciding I could check out the lavishly illustrated, hardcover Jane Yolen book from the library rather than needing to buy it, I had $1.50 left. I picked up Piping Down the Valleys Wild, a poetry anthology edited by Nancy Larrick. I chose it because I liked the soft- and pink-edged cover, of a lamb merrily springing along. I liked the fact that even if I only had time for a page or two, a page or two was enough.
Even now, Karla Kuskin's poem echoes in my head: "I'm a lean dog, / a mean dog / a wild dog / and lone...." I was a lone dog that year: too desperate to be liked, too in love with my own sadness. Books were my buffer. I read poetry on the school bus. I read poetry in my grandfather's garden, down by the unnameable purple flowers. I read poetry in my tent. I read poetry while eating artichokes one leaf at a time. I read poetry on the cold mornings in my house, standing over the air vent with my nightgown tucked under my feet, trapping all the hot air against my thighs before it could escape to the rest of the house. I read that book in bed until my eyes grew tired, and so I took turns shutting one eye, then the other. I read that book until my arms grew tired, and so I tied a length of string around the book's spine and scotch-taped it to hang down from the ceiling via a length of packing string. The book fell down and bonked me in the face right after I'd finally gotten settled again under the covers. Emily Dickinson, Vachel Lindsay, Sara Teasdale.
So often when we move forward in school and in life, we look back at our most-adored books with a twinge of embarrassment. We outgrow the things we loved. But I have I never had to disown the poets; they travel with me. They gather in number. I felt like a lone dog back in the day when all the other girls wore Guess jeans, and I couldn't afford them. But I'm part of a bigger pack now. We race. We dare the moon with our howling.