I haven’t looked at my Seamus Heaney book of collected poems in awhile. I bought it at the Dublin airport 10 years ago just after finishing my graduate studies at LSU, and tucked some notes and tourist brochures I’d been carrying around from my travels. One of them was a poem, or song, that someone with left-handed writing had neatly scrawled onto thick field notes paper, dated March, 2009. No name or credit to the author, and the paper is not addressed to me or anyone in fact. I cannot recall exactly how I came upon this note, but it had some messages in it that felt attuned to my present situation, so I poured over the lines again and again in wonder.
It always feels a bit magical to unearth old notes from a book that has been tucked away on a shelf for years. I remember opening an annotated collection of fairy tales that I had bought during grad school for my thesis research, and found a lovey-dovey journal entry from a young woman on college ruled paper. She was musing on her upcoming marriage, and practicing spelling her new name. Discovering that letter was like opening a tiny window into her life: did she end up getting married? if so, were they happy? how old was she when she wrote this? I also let my own 20-something-independent-artist reality editorialize her letter: who else but a teenage bride-to-be would write with such gushy abandon and affection? is this woman really old enough to be getting married? why is she getting married so young? she seems young. is she okay now?
I shared the lovey-dovey journal entry with all my friends, my thesis mentors, my boyfriend at the time, and I probably pondered over it as well with strangers when the art grad crew went out together for drinks at the bar near campus, Slinky’s: So she wrote this expression of love and a sort of prayer for the future life of her romance, then folded it up, tucked it in a collection of fairy tales and…what next? I don’t think I ever had much of a detective lead on how to find the author, just the name and address of the bookstore that I’d ordered it from on Amazon. I imagined finding the author, returning the letter to them, and getting the chance to download what had conspired in their life after that letter, but I got distracted with the ambitious tasks I’d planned for my thesis exhibition, and the letter got lost in the shuffle of my studio papers. My studio back then was a mess.
The poem that I just found in the Seamus Heaney book? It’s now on the south wall of my studio, essentially reminding me to take off the rose colored glasses. Will I ever discover/rediscover the author? I don’t know, but I am grateful for the message and the reminder that words delivered to paper and tucked away in a book carry energy with them from the past.
I’m also struck by the contrast of the two messages I found: the lovey-dovey journal entry I found in a book of fairy tales in my studio in 2008 that was bathed in the fantasy of romantic love, and the tender, yet sobering poem I just rediscovered that entreats the reader to rejoin reality.
What will I rediscover today? What messages does the past have to share with me? What messages from my past are being uncovered in books I no longer hold? What messages from your past are in books long forgotten and redistributed?