What We Read Then

Before Young Adult there was Mason Williams’ Reading Matter
with that fabulous chapter called “Salad Days” which
I know would make me laugh again, and that one
little poem where he says he envies the pool his girlfriend
dives into because it touches her so completely — oh if
we could ever imagine being thought of that way —
and Peter Beagle’s Last Unicorn; there was Seven Arrows
by Hyemeyosts Storm, declared later by scholars to be
a hoax, and the book in handwriting (not for children)
called Living on the Earth by Alicia Bay Laurel who had
changed her name and here explained everything
about communal living, peasant blouse patterns and how to
rid yourself of crabs if I remember correctly; short a
utopia, we dug into Plath, there was Salinger, of course,
who had set up the speakers for the other guys to use
on stage and then ran around in black when the lights
were out so we could never see him again, and we read
every single book by Hermann Hesse — we would have read
the outtakes if he had them; we nodded yes to Be Here Now,
we hid with Coffee, Tea or Me, which we honestly believed
was written by two stewardess’ (we ourselves might be)
instead of by a male hack, dreaming, and then Anaïs Nin —
because whatever sex was, we were in, especially if it
sounded like “Angel in the Morning” which we had reason
to believe it did; we built towards Vonnegut, for forgotten reasons
we liked Brautigan; we lived through Separate Peace
and Lord of the Flies, the far worst being A Bell for Adano,
whose title alone still makes me feel like cinder blocks
are tied around my brain, and all the while we never thought
a sentence wasn’t true or an author wasn’t who the cover
said she was, even Go Ask Alice whose anonymous author
went on to write many other anonymous fake diaries
each about a teen who suicided (as some of these real
authors did) from one wrong headed decision or other.
But by the time truth snaked through the interference
the books sat cross-legged in our minds, maintaining
an innocence the way the innocent who are brought to court
remain linked to the charges of which they were cleared.
Then, my last night at camp, asleep in my bunk I was slipped
a copy of Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, with its yellow cover,
a change up pitch from what I had been reading. Even now,
when daily identity falls dark I still seek out its traveling
monks and enigmatic masters. When I think of how publishers
lied to us then, I have to wonder if Americans who believed
the lying, war-hungry administrations of the 21st- Century
chilling turn are more or less like we were as young adults
in the public library, peering sideways at bindings
with the faith that deer in a leafless winter have for bark.

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