While soaking in the tub yesterday, I heard the front door open, followed by the familiar flap of the mail slot, then envelopes sliding across the painted wood floor. I thought of Julia Cameron, who has a new book out with the same title as this post. I haven't yet read it, but I love the title. To a writer, the sound of paper is a promise. Sometimes it's the promise of a check that might mysteriously appear from a forgotten debtor, just in the nick of time to pay the rent. Or an acceptance letter from one of the many agents you sent your manuscript. Even a rejection letter holds promise, because it means you are a writer, broadcasting your pages like seeds in a windstorm, knowing one of them will eventually burrow itself into the heart of a fertile mind and take hold.
I wrote my first poem at the age of nine. It was simply titled, "Mother." I have no recollection of the words anymore, only the sound of my pencil scratching a messy image of love into a lined notebook, written for the woman who lay in her bed, moaning in pain. I thought my poem would help her get well. It didn't. But writing it helped me. Over the next several months, I wrote that pencil down to a stub. Many more after it.
What is the sound of paper?
It's candy wrappers unfolding, my tongue sweating with sweet anticipation.
It's Dad shaking out the Muskegon Chronicle after supper as he sat in his leatherette recliner, shoes off, smelling up the living room.
It's the last flimsy square on the roll peeling from the cardboard cylinder, me shuffling to the closet with underpants around my ankles, cursing my sisters for their lack of consideration.
It's our dentist pinning a stiff paper napkin around my neck to catch my blood but not my screams as he yanked a tooth we couldn't afford to fill with silver.
It's a note uncrinkling on its own after being passed under bubblegum-painted desks. Do you like me? Circle Yes or No. Yes.
It's red and green Christmas paper, peppered with dried needles, my name on the tag, tearing, not caring, because it's for me.
It's unfolding a wrinkly blue learner's permit, exchanging it for the real thing, though I'd been driving since I was twelve.
It's antiseptic white unrolled, the width of my bottom, schooch down, Honey. A little further. A little further.
It's wet signatures dancing across a marriage license, traded in for a thick ream of divorce papers before the ink is dry.
It's fat markers squeaking bloody prayers on poster board, carried on a stick, nobody hearing the sound peace marching past closed windows.
It's my wet feet leaving little puddles on the way to the living room to find the letter addressed to me. Dear Mom. I wrote this poem for you...