"Licking the Page"

When my mother wasn’t looking,
I’d open the pages and find the one
with Lowly the Worm holding that
cupcake, and I’d apply pink tongue
to pink cupcake. You’d think I’d have
been disappointed, but, deep within,
I located the flavor of strawberries,
and maybe a hint of lemon, topped with
whirls of cream.

I did it one more time, though I was
much older, because on the page
Meg Murry knew something I knew:
nothing outside her matched
the life exploding inside her.
When she realized this,
did her gut lurch like mine did, and
did her heart crumple like mine did?
I needed communion with Meg—
I had to ask her how she knew, and
how else can you cross over and
get your communion?
I knew my tongue could bridge
the chasm, and that time, I tasted
apples and light.

In college, my professor instructed us
to climb in, hunker down—then advance!
advance outward! and watch the words
crack and reveal their betrayal and gore,
their coagulated evidence of the writer’s
background and prejudice oozing onto
the page. He warned us, don’t be fooled,
take your axe, break it all apart and—a-ha!
There is no meaning anywhere.
I wept for all he wished to extinguish,
and I refused to buy his book, because
I bet if I put my tongue on it, it would
taste like paper.

"Licking the Page" first published in Defenestration

Notes: Growing up, I often had a mad desire to climb inside a good book and live in that story world for awhile. The characters meant so much to me and were such interesting people that I desperately wanted to talk to them directly. You may recognize a few of the characters I mention: Richard Scarry's Lowly the Worm and Madeleine L'Engle's Meg Murry.

     The poem was a reminder to myself to preserve the sheer joy and pleasure of reading, even while analyzing text and examining technique (an occupational hazard for writers!).

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