“A Great Book can be read again and again…” by Suzanne Buffam

A Great Book can be read again and again, inexhaustibly, with great benefit to great minds, wrote Mortimer Adler, co-founder of the Great Books Foundation and the Great Books of the Western World program at the university where my husband will be going up for tenure next fall, and where I sometimes teach as well, albeit in a lesser, “non-ladder” position. Not only must a Great Book still matter today, Adler insisted, it must touch upon at least twenty- five of the one hundred and two Great Ideas that have occupied Great Minds for the last twenty-five centuries. Ranging from Angel to World, a comprehensive list of these concepts can be found in Adler’s two-volume Syntopicon: an Index to the Great Ideas, which was published with Great Fanfare, if not Great Financial Success, by Encyclopedia Britannica in 1952. Although the index includes many Great Ideas, including Art, Beauty, Change, Desire, Eternity, Family, Fate, Happiness, History, Pain, Sin, Slavery, Soul, Space, Time, and Truth, it does not, alas, include an entry on Pillows, which often strike me, as I sink into mine at the end of long day of anything, these days, as at the very least worthy of note. Among the five hundred and eleven Great Books on Adler’s list, updated in 1990 to appease his quibbling critics, moreover, only four, I can’t help counting, were written by women—Virginia, Willa, Jane, and George—none of whom, as far as I can discover, were anyone’s mother.

Not in stock, says the campus bookstore clerk looking up from his screen with a smile when I inquire, incognito, after my books which are nowhere to be found on the shelves. We used to have two copies of the first one, he says, but no one bought them, so we sent them back last June. We never carried the second one, he adds, but we could order it for you. What’s your name? I glance up, above his head, at a shelf of Staff Picks. Between a history of disgust and a guide for saving the planet, I spot my husband’s last book, gleaming in the day’s dying light. Forget it, I mutter into my muffler, I can get it from Amazon by Friday. I go home and order an ivory satin pillowcase instead, guaranteed to reduce hair loss due to breakage and soften fine lines.

No Use

Wet cigarettes.
A babysitter whose babysitter is sick.
Nunchucks at a gunfight.
Stiletto heels at the beach.
Last year’s flu shot.
Next year’s peace talks.

All day I lie sprawled across my pillow watching a light crust of  snow retract across the lawn into a thin band of shade along the  fence. I watch the sun fail to rise above the Japanese maple and  drop like a coin into a slot in the wall.

Therapies A to Z

Primal scream.
Quantum touch.

Suzanne Buffam, “A Great Book can be read again and again…” from A Pillow Book (Canarium Books, 2016). Copyright © 2016 by Suzanne Buffam.

So it may be a stretch, but I’m pairing this with an acoustic cover of one of my favorite songs, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” by a new to me artist Darryl Green. A nice haunting version in-between Annie Lennox and Marilyn Manson.

“Enough” by Suzanne Buffam

I am wearing dark glasses inside the house
To match my dark mood.

I have left all the sugar out of the pie.
My rage is a kind of domestic rage.

I learned it from my mother
Who learned it from her mother before her

And so on.
Surely the Greeks had a word for this.

Now surely the Germans do.
The more words a person knows

To describe her private sufferings
The more distantly she can perceive them.

I repeat the names of all the cities I’ve known
And watch an ant drag its crooked shadow home.

What does it mean to love the life we’ve been given?
To act well the part that’s been cast for us?

Wind. Light. Fire. Time.
A train whistles through the far hills.

One day I plan to be riding it.

Suzanne Buffam, “Enough” from The Irrationalist. Copyright © 2010 by Suzanne Buffam. Canarium Books.

“Saving Grace” by Tom Petty from Highway Companion

(Album version video.)

“The New Experience” by Suzanne Buffam

I was ready for a new experience.
All the old ones had burned out.

They lay in little ashy heaps along the roadside
And blew in drifts across the fairgrounds and fields.

From a distance some appeared to be smoldering
But when I approached with my hat in my hands

They let out small puffs of smoke and expired.
Through the windows of houses I saw lives lit up

With the otherworldly glow of TV
And these were smoking a little bit too.

I flew to Rome. I flew to Greece.
I sat on a rock in the shade of the Acropolis

And conjured dusky columns in the clouds.
I watched waves lap the crumbling coast.

I heard wind strip the woods.
I saw the last living snow leopard

Pacing in the dirt. Experience taught me
That nothing worth doing is worth doing

For the sake of experience alone.
I bit into an apple that tasted sweetly of time.

The sun came out. It was the old sun
With only a few billion years left to shine.

Suzanne Buffam, “The New Experience” from The Irrationalist. (Canarium Books, 2010). Copyright © 2010 by Suzanne Buffam.