Author Archives: EC Alberts

Excerpts from Teagan’s Notebook – Age 15, Elizabeth Claire Alberts

 

Writing

 

My grandma tells me I’m crazy

for writing poetry,

she tells my parents they’re crazy

for running a bookshop,

for home schooling me,

for letting me waste time

collecting words in spiral-bound notebooks.

 

But I don’t care what Grandma Hartigan thinks

because I know that I would die if I couldn’t

put pen to paper, that my organs and my bones

would actually implode, and my muscles and skin

would cave in, and I would be nothing but

a twitching puddle of guts and gore.

 

So that’s why I’m writing now:

bedroom door shut, toes curled

into my blue cotton bedspread,

writing fast feelings for Jon,

this guy who took me out

never returned my calls, the creep

said my dark curls needed

something stronger than hair gel.

 

I’m searching for the right words,

the right rhythm, the right form

when my door bursts open.

My pen streaks

across the page.

 

My mom, palms pressing into narrow hips,

meets my eyes with a glare.

 

You’re supposed to knock, I yell,

slamming my notebook shut,

shoving it under a pillow.

 

Didn’t I ask you to help me

wash dishes, Teagan?

 

Hang on. I’ll be there in a sec.

 

Dad would never intrude on me like this.

He knows writing is more oxygen to me

     than air.

He knows the web of quiet I need

     to spin around me.

 

He understands my dreams

     of writing a full collection of poetry,

     of seeing my poems published

     in a glossy covered book someday.

He’s the one who tells me

     to keep hold of my dreams

     as he lives his own dream

     of owning and running a bookshop.

 

No hang on – now, Teagan, Mom says.

You know your responsibilities.

 

Before I can whine another word,

Mom whips around and goes,

leaving my door open,

  scattering

       my thoughts

away.

 

 

Where We Live

 

Crystal Tower Condos

The Perfect Place

For You and Your Family.

That’s what the billboard sign says

near the entrance by the pool

 

Perfect for some people I guess

perfect for pressed-suit professionals

who work overtime

perfect for well-to-dos

who own another home in the suburbs

perfect for people who hire

dog walkers and nannies and cleaners

but not so perfect

for

us

 

Grandma Hartigan bought this place

for Mom and Dad before I was born

two bedroom

one and a half bathroom condo

on the fifth floor of a high rise tower

in Arlington, Virginia’s Crystal City

just south of downtown Washington DC

 

Perhaps it would be perfect for us

if we weren’t home all the time

Mom and Dad have home schooled me

since I was eight

taking turns teaching me
(Mom in the morning

Dad in the afternoon)

while the other works

at Hooked on Books

our family-owned bookshop

 

Perhaps it would be perfect

if the traffic ever stopped

on the street below

if the other high-rise tower didn’t block

the mid-day sun

if the air conditioner didn’t always break

if our books didn’t overflow

the shelf space

 

Don’t get me wrong

there are things I love

about our home

the nearby metro stop

the long wide balcony

that stretches into the sky

the fact that Mom and Dad have let me

decorate my room with posters

and pictures and dream catchers

that they never make me

tidy up my books and clothes

 

But sometimes I dream of a yard

rooms like run-on sentences

windows that open on four sides

 

We’ll get out of here soon

Dad always says

But soon never comes

and we are always

still

here

 

 

Last Bookshop in Virginia: A Syllabic Poem

 

I hurry out to help Mom,

darting down the hall, whirling

around the frayed and sagging

tan linen couch, where Dad sits

 

staring into his laptop,

looking like he’s trying to

read some book written in a

language other than English.

 

Mom greets me with a tight-lipped

look. You wash. I’ll dry, she says,

handing me a soggy sponge

and two yellow rubber gloves.

 

I dunk plates and forks and knives

into the soapy water,

scour grease and veggie scraps

from the oily frypan.

 

I am washing the last thing –

the tin Mom used to make bread –

when Dad clunks down his laptop

and staggers to the kitchen.

 

He leans into the counter

above the sink, and at first

he doesn’t say anything.

But then he draws in a breath

 

as if he were trying to

suck all the wind from the sky.

I just read the news, he says.

Read About It is closing.

 

What? You’re kidding, Mom breathes out.

letting her blue-plaid tea towel

drop to the floor. Even I

stop what I’m doing, gulp in

 

air. I don’t need to ask what

this means. I already know

that independent bookshops

in this country are dying

 

faster than summer mayflies.

I know Read About It was

the only other indie

bookshop in all of DC,

 

and that our bookshop is now

the last one in Virginia,

the last one in DC, and

probably one of the last

 

in the whole United States.

I hold in my breath, hold in

my words, stare at the crinkles

caked in Dad’s forehead, and scrub.

 

Why Bookstore Business Blows in 2014

 

Dad blames our location on a too-quiet corner on a not-so-busy street in Arlington, Virginia, the cracked and bumpy sidewalk, the bad parking, our rusty Hooked on Books sign, the non-stop traffic, the techno music blasting from the shop three doors down, the oak tree that blocks our entrance with its green-gold leaves, Ruperto, our Pilipino landlord, who won’t let us break our lease so we can move the bookstore somewhere else, and of course the big Barnes & Noble store nearby and the online book stores (although Mom says they’re not doing well, too).

Mom accuses the U.S. economy, the world recessions, how everyday things like bread and apples and toilet paper and shampoo have all shot through the roof, not to mention that it’s almost cheaper to go on a luxury Tahitian cruise every week than to own a car, and the pesky new carbon tax that’s made printed books extra expensive which is probably why we never see our once-loyal customers like Mrs. Benson and her three daughters and the school librarian Mr. Edwards who used to buy hundreds of dollars of books, and of course those Kindles and Nooks and iPads which have made it cheap as buying McDonald’s French Fries to download e-books.

The Channel 9 anchor woman reports a different story, of rising illiteracy, changing values, how recent studies have shown that Americans in 2014 now have approximately two and a half minutes per day to read since we’re too busy with multiple jobs and overtime and how we get caught in traffic jams and crowded trains just to come home to a dusty house, dirty dishes, drippy children, bills, laundry, and even kids are more stressed these days, with studies showing that average homework loads have doubled in the past twenty years. And besides, the anchor woman says, pulling out a white handkerchief from the inside pocket of her Chanel suit jacket to wipe the sweat off her brow, Who even wants to spend all that time filling our heads with made-up stories and ideas, when our heads are full enough as it is?

 

Download a pdf of Excerpts from Teagan’s Notebook – Age 15

EC Alberts

Elizabeth Claire Alberts (aka Claire Buchel) is a PhD candidate in creative writing at Macquarie University, where she also teaches creative writing. In 2012, she spent three months as a research fellow at the International Youth Library in Munich, Germany, working on her thesis on young adult verse-novels. Her published work includes poetry, children’s fiction, creative non-fiction and journalism. When she isn’t writing, she’s preparing raw vegan cuisine, scuba diving, and working in any way she can to protect the environment.

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The Poet, an abecediarian poem, E.C. Alberts

…another day/ another hour/another step towards closing my family’s bookstore forever/antsy with a feeling like sadness/antsy with feelings I don’t understand/ attempting to numb myself with work/ biting my lower lip until I taste blood/ blinking back tears as I pull apart the shelves…

This poem is an excerpt from my young adult verse-novel, The Notebook of Teagan Trace, which I am writing in a multitude of poetic forms. An abecedarian poem is an acrostic form that begins each line with successive letters of the alphabet. 

 

The Poet: an Abecedarian Poem

another day

another hour

another step towards closing my family’s bookstore forever

 

antsy with a feeling like sadness

antsy with feelings I don’t understand

 

attempting to numb myself with work

 

biting my lower lip until I taste blood

 

blinking back tears as I pull apart the shelves

books of biographies

books of play scripts

books of poetry

books that I’ve looked at everyday, familiar as family

 

boxing away years of memory

 

caffeinated on too many cappuccinos, Mom bounces round the shop

clearing the rusty filing cabinet

clearing the non-fiction shelves

clearing the textbooks

 

cloaking the SALE! EVERYTHING 25-75% OFF sign with a new one that says

closing

closing

closing

 

Dad hiding out in the back office

dazed expression on his face as he stares into his screensaver

Depressed, Mom whispers as she zips past me

 

dictionary definition: dejected, despairing, despondent, dismal, distressed

 

door bell jingles, but no one goes to see but me

dressed in sleek black pants and a red v-neck top, a woman a little younger

    than Mom enters the shop

each arm adorned with wooden bangles

ebony hair pulled back into a bun

 

eyes meeting mine, she smiles

 

Finally found you, she says. I’ve heard you’re one of the few bookshops that

    still stocks poetry. But I’m sorry to see you’re closing

 

fingers fumbling at my sides, I tell her in a

flat-toned voice how all books are 75%, for her to let me know if she needs

    any help

 

folding her hands, she says she’s

foraging for one book in particular

 

Forgetting: A History, a book of poems by Zara Valentine

 

Frivolous of me, really, she says. I gave too many away when it first came out,

    and now I only have a few left

Funny how you never think of your first book going out of print

 

goggle-eyed, I stare at her – she’s the author?

goose pimples creeping up my arms because I’ve never met a published

    poet before

 

gradually I get a grip

guide her to the poetry section

 

hastily, I thumb through what’s left on the shelf – H, I, J, K

head not working, I skip through V straight to Z

heat on my cheeks as I hunt through the stack

 

Here, I say, handing her the shiny black book, edges bent

hibiscus flowers decorating the front cover

 

holding the book to her chest, she breathes out. Thank you

How wonderful

 

I am not able to stand it anymore, and I blurt out, So you’re the poet who

    wrote this?

 

I am, she says, I’m Zara

 

I am fumbling now, a million questions spluttering out

I ask her how she first got published

I ask her how she started writing

I ask her if she always wanted to be a poet

I ask her if she keeps a notebook

I ask her where her books sell, since big chains don’t stock much poetry,

    and independents like ours are closing down

I ask her why, when, how she got published when poetry’s considered dead,

    dead, dead

 

I even start telling her about my own notebook, how I’m always scribbling

    poems and poem-like words and things like cinquains and acrostics

I say I’m sure my poems aren’t as good as hers

 

in the background, Mom flits around the shop, giving me eyes to come help,

    but I ignore her

 

Inexpressible reasons why I started to write, Zara says, telling me about the

influence of English teachers, her insatiable appetite for books, her mother dying

    when she was eight, giving her the constant itch to create

initially working as a secretary, writing poems in the hours after work

innate feeling that poetry is what she should do, money or no money, sent her

    first manuscript to fifty-one publishers before she got a yes from a

    small publishing house, Metaphor

inner strengthening when Metaphor filed for bankruptcy just months after they

  published Forgetting

inspired by her dad to keep writing, who told her not to listen to people who

    said writing poetry was useless

involved in writing a sixth book now

 

It’s great to hear you write, Zara says, Do you have any poetry here I could

    read? And tell me, what was your name?

 

jack-in-the-box in my chest, I tell her Teagan, Teagan Trace

jittery legs

jumpy

 

knowing my notebook’s on the floor beside me

 

lapse of time before I reach down and pick it up

leaking sweat as I hand it to her

 

letting Zara leaf through my notebook

letting Zara – someone I just met – read poems I haven’t even shown my best friend

    or my parents

 

looking at her face as she reads

looking hard at every blink and lip twitch, wondering what it means

 

lunacy

 

millions of moments march by before Zara looks up

mouth moving slow motion, she says, Your poems are strong, Teagan.

     They’ve got great energy.

Must say, I think your cinquain sequence is my favourite

 

nervously, I start to say that my poems aren’t that good, they’re just silly things

    I write to pass the time

neurons neurotically flittering, I realize I sound just like my grandma

 

now she locks her gaze on me

now Zara asks, Have you ever thought of making poetry your career?

 

o yes I’ve thought of it

of getting books published

of spending every day writing at a desk

 

only I have always thought I had to be something else – a lawyer, a stockbroker,

    a dentist

only I think of Grandma saying poetry’s dead

only I’m packing away books in my family’s shop that’s closing down

 

ooh but my heart sings yes, yes, yes

outlandish to think of doing anything else

 

palimpsest of my heart

palpable

pervasive

 

poetry

 

quaky-legged, I ask Zara, But how do you make money?

 

Quite a few people still read poetry, you know, she says with a wink

 

really honestly, though, Zara admits that she

receives little recompense for her work

rectified her finances for awhile by waitressing part-time

reduced her spending

resolved her situation by starting a small online business, so now

    she can write all day and fiddle with her business at night

Risky? she says. Perhaps. But I know I wouldn’t be happy if I couldn’t write

 

she tells me I can do this, too

she tells me I should follow my gut

she tells me not to listen to people who say poetry’s dead

 

somewhere behind us, Mom shouts my name

 

Think you better go, Zara says

 

throat closing up, I nod

together Zara and I wander towards the door

 

tongue-tied

topple-toed

tripping over my words, I tell her not to worry about paying for her book

 

unexpectedly, she says, I’d actually like you to have it. And here…

unfastening her purse, she digs out her card

urging it into my hands with the book

 

verbal functions no longer working

verging (stupidly) on the point of tears

Very nice of you, I splutter, thank you

 

Where are you, Teagan? Mom calls

 

whirling around to go, Zara says, Keep writing!

 

writing

writing

writing

writing already in my head

 

writing poems

writing poems

 

writing Zara an email: I can’t say how much I loved meeting you

xoxo

 

yelling to Mom that I’m coming

 

Zara’s words

zigzagging

zipping

zooming as I go

 

Download a pdf of The Poet

 

EC Alberts

Elizabeth Claire Alberts (aka Claire Buchel) is a PhD candidate in creative writing at Macquarie University, where she also teaches creative writing. In 2012, she spent three months as a research fellow at the International Youth Library in Munich, Germany, working on her thesis on young adult verse-novels. Her published work includes poetry, children’s fiction, creative non-fiction and journalism. When she isn’t writing, she’s preparing raw vegan cuisine, scuba diving, and working in any way she can to protect the environment.