Scramble and Sensitivity: Notes on a Reading Life
By José Angel Araguz
My childhood is one marked by migration. There was the initial (im)migration of my mother and aunt to Corpus Christi, Texas from Matamoros, Mexico. Then, after I was born, there was the migration across Corpus Christi, from the projects on Leopard blocks away from the refineries, to a series of garage apartments. This physical migration ended when I was eight and mom began to make payments on the house she was later to own.
At this new house, we were down the road from the Greenwood Library. This is the first library where I learned how to pace myself and dwell among books. Before this, my reading life was a disorganized scramble, reaching after whatever books seemed interesting in the small amount of time I was allowed in the school library. I had also been occasionally allowed one comic book or an issue of Mad or Cracked. This practice stopped, however, when my mother said we couldn’t afford these anymore due to not having money. I don’t remember what comic it was I didn’t get, but I do recall this conversation happening at a 7-Eleven parking lot near midnight.
The first time I was dropped off at Greenwood, I began by attempting my usual hurried scramble, but quickly became overwhelmed. The place was huge (to an 8-year-old). After some minutes, I noticed that all the books were numbered, and so decided to start at the beginning.
Weekend to weekend, I made my way down the numbers, picking out books on UFOs, exorcism, self-help, astrology, conspiracy theories, etc. When I felt stuck, I’d run into a random aisle. Doing this, I learned the library in pockets, like where the two shelves of graphic novels hid. It was on one of these random turns that I found my first poetry book.
I remember poring over a copy of Robert Pinsky’s History of My Heart and not really knowing what I was holding or looking at. All I knew was that reading those pages of poetry felt simultaneously cool and serious. It didn’t hurt that the book’s title could easily translate into Spanish and work as a song title by someone like Juan Gabriel or Los Bukis. These artists sing songs that my mother and aunt listened to on weekends, drinking, crying, and letting conversations trail off. In a similar way, this moment at Greenwood was one of landing after so much movement, so much migration of the mind.
I continue to subsist on this attention and sensitivity to language. It’s my hope to write something that awakes this in another person. Like the other day: my partner told me of a friend who, as part of getting through a bad day, posted a photo of Stag’s Leap by Sharon Olds on Instagram with the caption: “I’m a mess and I’m ready for Sharon Olds to fuck me up.” Now that’s worth aspiring to, no? To write something that takes a reader to a cool and serious—and, yes, fucked up—place.
José Angel Araguz is a CantoMundo fellow and the author of seven chapbooks as well as the collections Everything We Think We Hear, Small Fires, and Until We Are Level Again. His poems, prose, and reviews have appeared in Crab Creek Review, Prairie Schooner, The Windward Review, and The Bind. He serves as an editor for the journal Right Hand Pointing and is on the editing staff of Airlie Press. He runs the poetry blog The Friday Influence and the Instagram poetry account @poetryamano. José teaches English and creative writing at Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon.