Adrienne Rich died this week, and I can’t find her. My Adrienne Rich books, that is. They’ve been lost, shuffled, misplaced in many rearrangements of my life and book shelves. Walking from shelf to shelf this morning has not unearthed them, which is disconcerting because for years, Diving into the Wreck was a totem for me – it sat on my bed stand in one apartment where several poems got me through a heart ache as much as any song. It sat, later, on a top shelf, next to two red bound collections of Rich – one mine, the other my husband’s. When we split, we each took our copy of those clear, angry, awakening words.
Ever since I drove out to Seattle in my little Nissan Stanza, the car weighed down by books and many more soon to be accrued as I started graduate school and spent weekends roaming bookstores, my shelves were organized by themes and genre. Poetry was here, essays there, Buddhism took up one shelf, hardcover novels another two. For a short while I made aesthetic groupings by color and size. Then when I had kids and they became mobile enough to grab and tear, the best books, the beloveds, were moved upward, and children’s books lined the bottom shelves.
When we moved into this house nine springs ago, a friend unpacked and shelved all of the books. I was hugely pregnant; we were all exhausted. The job was done quickly. I’ll organize them later, I told myself. I never did. I didn’t realize it then, but I was passing through a threshold. These objects which for years had been so central were becoming less so. I simply didn’t have time to love them as I had.
Two years ago, the giant bookcase in the living room came down to make more space for the kids to play and then for another sofa. I took boxes of books to friends. Lesser quality picture books – those written by movie stars or based on TV characters, went to Goodwill, while Madeline and Olivia made their way upstairs. Novels that I admitted I’d never read – Waiting had been waiting too long – went to the library’s resale shop.
Again, I told myself I’d give some thought to the remaining books’ order. They were here because they were best loved, after all. The book I’d done my master’s thesis on, now out of print. A feminist treatise that had had me up for nights, AWAKE to a new way of being. A gift from a friend now passed. But it never happened.
And now I can’t find Adrienne Rich. She has died and all I have is a memory of reading that poem – its title even escapes me, though there is an image of teacup in it – in the apartment on John Street in Seattle, the one that looked out over the parking lot of the liquor store, the one with the many book shelves.