I don’t remember when exactly I learned the word “engrossed” but it quickly became associated with the act of reading. When I worked at bookstores, engrossed is what people became when they found themselves not just leafing through but reading a book. All small talk and random gazing ceased; all thoughts of good posture thrown out the window. I know I myself have sat/stood/squatted/knelt in all sorts of manners, all because a page has taken all my attention. This is when literature becomes virtual reality, when it takes you as a reader to other places. It’s not escapism, more an activity of elsewhere.
This elsewhere territory is exactly the terrain explored in this week’s poem “Dear Reader,” by Amy Gerstler. Through a series of questions, Gerstler undergoes a meditation on the space one enters when reading. The choice to form the narrative around questions compliments the imaginative work involved in reading. The questions also take the attention off the speaker, while simultaneously and indirectly giving us much of the speaker’s character. When the speaker does finally ground the narrative in themselves, it comes as a pleasant glimpse into another life.
Dear Reader, – Amy Gerstler
Through what precinct of life’s forest are you hiking at this moment?
Are you kicking up leaf litter or stabbed by brambles?
Of what stuff are you made? Gossamer or chain mail?
Are you, as reputed, marvelously empty? Or invisibly ever-present,
even as this missive is typed? Have you been to Easter Island? Yes?
Then I’m jealous. Do you use a tongue depressor as bookmark?
Are you reading this at an indecent hour by flashlight?
plenty of scholarly ink has been spilt praising readers like yourself,
who risk radical dismantling, or being unmasked, by rappelling
deep into sentences. Your trigger warnings could be triggered every
second, yet you forge on, mystic syllables detonating in your head,
the metal-edged smell of monsoon-downpour on hot asphalt
raising steam in your imagination. You hold out for the phrase
with which the soul resonates, am I right? Reading, you’re seized
by tingly feelings, a rustling in the brain, winds that tickle your scalp,
bubbles erupting from a blow hole at the back of your neck.
You forget the breathy woman talking softly on TV across the lobby
(via TiVo you’ve saved her for later.) Birds outside are cracking jokes
and cackling. Reader, smile to yourself, rock the cradle, kiss
everyone you wish to kiss, and please keep reading. It beats
fielding threatening phone calls for $15 an hour which is what
yours truly is meant to be doing right now, instead of speculating
on the strange and happy manifestations of, you, dear reader, you.
p.s. For further “engrossment” here’s my poem “Engrossed” published at Qu Literary Magazine.
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