Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Beautifully Worthless

I may never speak ill of poetry again.

I took The Beautifully Worthless by Ail Liebegott with me to San Francisco because it fit inside my purse and I always have a book squirreled away somewhere. The trunk of my car is a library. But I sat in the hotel atrium reading Blue of Noon by Georges Bataille instead. It turned out to be a good decision and a bad one - good because I didn't mind setting aside Blue of Noon when our plans changed - bad because I hate an unfinished book so I forced myself to endure Blue of Noon through to the end before I picked up The Beautifully Worthless. (Why do I do that? I was bored by Story of the Eye. I should have know better than to read another of Bataille's works.)

Then I couldn't find my copy. Losing a book drives me insane. Blue of Noon mocked me while I searched the house, the car, my suitcase. It seemed to be everywhere I looked; The Beautifully Worthless was nowhere to be found.

Yesterday, it reappeared. The SO was out of town. It was raining. The cats were curled together on my pillow. Perfect reading conditions. I got comfortable and opened the cover. I was glad I didn't try to read this book in a hotel atrium. It deserved my full attention and a quiet room.

Because this collection flows so well as a whole work, it seems wrong to mention individual pieces. It is, sort of, a story about a run away waitress and her dog. It may sum up to that, but each piece is an entirely different country.

One entry in particular has a strong grip on my memory because it touches on a story that resurfaces through my life.

When I was in high school, I was an avid hiker and planned to travel the southern span of the Appalachian Trail before I submitted to college. We were training for it, taking weekend hikes with fully loaded packs, breaking in boots, camping in snow, getting in shape for the long trek when our leader told us that two women had been murdered along the trail, so the trip was off. He was looking at me when he told the group. Years later, I read Bill Bryson's book about hiking the trail (and was appalled by his lack of preparation!) when he mentioned the murders. It was the first time I heard that the women were lesbians. That they were a couple. And I thought back to the leader looking at me. It never occurred to me to ask him why they were murdered or who they were. (Sadly enough, when you're female, the idea that someone will murder you simply because you're female isn't a big stretch for the imagination. Fact of life.) Several years after reading Bryson's book, I heard that someone was charged for those murders. I was amazed that anyone in law enforcement cared enough to keep the case open. I tried putting together those bits of information into a full story, but it was never clear what happened, or even when, and if those facts were muddled with another murder of two women on the trail that happened a different year. I never found out if the same person was charged with both sets of murders. Sometimes I wondered if there was one murder or two.

Then I read Ali's words:

"The women hikers were murdered for being lesbians.
The sound of that drones in and out,
soon I don't know what happened exactly-"

And for once poetry meant something to me. Something personal. It was a BAM! between the eyes moment of connection for me. I didn't have to diagram her words to know what they meant.

As I read through this incredible work, I was turning down page corners so that I knew where to go back and read again (Death. Love. About her dog.) but had to stop because almost every corner was bent. There's so much to be found in her words. I'm crushing on this book. I'm starting over from page one. Share the infatuation. Get a copy.

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