melville illustrationsEarly this morning I saw this bit about Maruice Sendak’s illustrations of Pierre by Herman Melville.  The book is out of print.  I have the feeling I need a heavy book, both in weight and emotion, to pin me down by all corners.  I thought I meant a book by a Russian.  You have no idea how many Russian people I have met at parties and I start talking about Dostoevsky and Tolstoy and generally they are befuddled.  Russia only means Doestoevsky and Tolstoy to me.  Is there something else to know about the place?

It seemed like a good idea today to sit down in the shower, and I saw all the teeny little hairs that I had shaved off over the last week.  I’m the only person who uses that shower.  This week.  I used to try to take long baths in that much-too-shallow tub.  I used to share that bathroom with four other girls.  I moved out and spent fifteen wonderful years with hundred-year-old bathtubs deep enough to drown someone.

So I went by the bookstore thinking I would buy Anna Karenina, how absurd, of course I have a copy with underlinings and stars in my stupid storage unit, and the book is about love troubles, which I do not have, instead I have Pierre by Herman Melville, and this may mean everything will be all right.  It is out of print.  My copy is the palest pastel green in the world.

I went into this shop in Lawrence and everyone who worked there was drunk.  They were holding plastic cups of wine.  It was New Year’s Eve, 8 pm, the shop was to close at 9.  They might sell incense, any of the Buddhas, any of the tiny Hindu idols, they might sell moccasins or scarves.  “Looking for anything in particular?” they said, I said no, I was just getting warm on my way to the car.  Massachusetts Street, one of my favorite streets in the world, so named for freedom, for the free-state town, street I have walked up and down so many times trying to puzzle my life out.  Seeing Brown’s shoe store, which appears to have been there since my parents would have walked up and down Mass when they had just met, in the town where they met, what if they had, either of them, gone somewhere else?  The lights in the small trees, the plaques about when buildings were built, 1800s, the bike shop oddly lit and open, too, at 8 pm on New Year’s Eve.  I drove out to the same liquor store where I first bought liquor.  What I bought was blackberry flavored vodka.  I didn’t know any better.  This time I did, I bought something nice and took it to my friend’s warm house, to chats and confetti and kids eating sour gummi worms by the handful.

melville illustration 2My mind remains clogged with crumbs of the story of my hurt friend, with other bad news for friends, lately.  I know Melville gets this.  He is very good at being sad and triumphant.  The book’s full title is: Pierre, or The Ambiguities.

The mouth and the mind full, his first sentence in the book that fixes everything, at least temporarily: “There are some strange summer mornings in the country, when he who is but a sojourner from the city shall early walk forth into the fields, and be wonder-smitten with the trance-like aspect of the green and golden world.”

melville illustration arms up

Sendak Melville illustrations

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