The Man in the Bookstore



You hear about it sometimes.  You see it in movies, read about it in works of fiction.

You never thought it would happen to you.

You never imagined you would walk into a bookstore, browse languorously in the poetry section and end up having an hour long conversation with a total stranger about the kind of words you both love.  You didn’t think instances like this existed outside of anecdotes.  But they do, and now you have one to share too.

You can now tell people how, while holding on to a Lorrie Moore novel you’ve been meaning to read, you were tapped on the shoulder gently and told, ‘You’re going to love that book. It’s one of my favourites.’  You can reminisce on how you responded with surprised but suppressed glee and told this man that Moore is one of your favourite writers, one that has greatly influenced your own writing style.  You can recount how you both then stood in the poetry aisle in companionable silence, which was soon broken by him picking out a slim anthology from the racks and asking you if you’ve ever read anything like it.

You can narrate then how responded in the negative but launched into a tirade about the kind of poetry you do enjoy, about how Zbigniew Herbert gives you goosebumps and Jack Gilbert makes you want to sit on a bench under a tree and weep.  You can tell people about the stories this man told you, about the poetry festival he organises and the many great writers and poets he’s interacted with.  You can smilingly share with them what you shared with him, that words will always be your first love, no matter where you go or what you do; that even though your career path has nothing to do with stanzas and plots, it’s what you think about and indulge in on your daily commute across the Charles and the small hazy window of time right before you fall asleep every night.

You can elaborate on the characters he told you about, the Moroccan store-owner who speaks a new language every time they meet or the owner of a Central Square tavern who happily displays this man’s artwork, the artwork you were amazed to hear about because of its sheer simplicity of it being a collection of pieces made up of broken and discarded bits of picture frames.  You can tell people of how stunned you were to hear about this, and how it only added to the beauty of the strange but welcome encounter.  If you are interrupted, you can veer the conversation back with another quiet but simple story he shared with you about one of his favourite poets, who writes about a refugee who, at displacement, took his house door off its hinges to take it with himself to wherever he was going next.  You can go into detail the way this man did about how this refugee, if he ever returns, will reattach the withered door to his old home to solidify his return; or will place this old door to wherever he settles next and will build his new home around it, to remember the foundation of where he came from.

You can muse on how this stunning story touched you because you could relate, because you have been displaced your whole life and have no doors to carry, only the idea of something that could feel like home but has yet to be discovered.  You can tell people how you asked this man more about this poet he loves, and in return, told him about a poet you love, a poet whose writing is so frenzied and manic you feel like you’re helplessly dancing along to a rhythm so remarkably fast your feet ache to catch up.

You could go on. But you won’t. You don’t need to tell anyone you bought all the books he pointed to, including one by the poet he loves.  You don’t need to tell them how you walked into this bookstore because your soul was down and the only thing that could revive it was some old-fashioned make-believe. You experienced something sacred today, something that added a bounce back into your step, something that made you grateful for who you are and where you are, something that reminded you that there is still magic in the world, even if it is just in a bookstore around the corner.



‘Do Tell’ by Richard Hoffman




You’re Leaving on a Jet Plane

My best friend is moving half a world away today.  This is for her.


An ocean, some islands, a few dozen countries.

An alternate timezone; a 3 am yawn here, a 6 pm shrug there.

Unfamiliar accents and fur-coated walks on oddly-named streets

from a shared edifice to a new campus.  Buildings of

scholarship and domesticity, of new habits and faces.

These are the measurements of distance,

of the differences in circumstances that occur

when one soul diverges from another.


But these poor numbers will have no impact.

We will scoff at them, and laugh at them, and devise

a system that is truly our own.

Constant connectivity of pictures and of words,

of “:)” and “:P” to describe the pictures without words.

The yen to hear a familiar giggle, satiated by sporadic

phone calls that alleviate the urge, but only just.

Loathed virtual sessions and blurry pixels, we will have to bear

because the alternative, of nothingness, is unbearable.


Fierce typing on keyboards that tire of our tirades

of life, love, loss and laughter.

Anecdotes of mornings spent on swings, see-sawing

through hazy nights spent dancing, fumbling,

looking for ways both down stairs and up.

Stairs and hallways licked with sweat and tears,

remnants of shared journeys through tunnels of ecstasy.

Morning rituals of tea but never enough milk,

always out of sugar, and varied recollections of what

had transpired before dawn.


These measures will be of our own making,

not of distance but its antonym,

of togetherness that is not hindered by time or space,

of comfort that needs no introduction,

of familiarity that need not be labeled,

and a shared history that cannot be over writ.

Till we meet again, my soul.