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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