Reading bell–S. E. Chandler

I found myself in the pages of her Bone Black childhood,
misfit and lonely.
But I wasn’t alone.

I borrowed bell hooks’ memoir from the library;
it was marked with pencil throughout.
Through the reader’s notes, I found a friend
living the bone-cutting memories
along with me.

She underlined “girlhood rebellion” on the first page of the introduction.
She scrawled a box around a paragraph about bell’s grandmother.
In cursive in the margins she penciled:
proper, and
along with random x’s, bullets, stars and dashes through the pages.

I began to read with her eyes, mine lingering on her underlined echos of
“They act as if this is another sign that I am not normal,” and
“She never wanted to marry…is her choice to remain single and alone,” and
The faintest marking lingers under “punishment”
and “feeling of shame,”
An underline drifts downward as if she were falling asleep
or couldn’t bear to finish the mark under

S-E-X is penciled in beside Ch. 32, and
W-I-F-E beside Ch. 33.
A bold circle loops around “She saw herself as one of them,”
a smaller one around “sad.”
She’s written “Me” beside the line
“We know there are many magical things that can be done with hair.”

I imagine her dark, thick and sad,
Blistering the pages looking for a friend.

An entire page of a chapter on dirty books is bracketed in pencil with underlines:
Popular romances,
almost always poor,
working woman,
women were always in need of rescue,
always virgins,
always married, and
always had happy endings.

Did she get a happy ending?
She underlined “Knowledge that everything would come right.”
Did it?

In the end, my co-reader and I merge into one.
“There is nothing wrong with feeling alone,” circled,
evoking my oldest fear.
Then she underlined the letters tattooed on my soul:
“I am here to make words.”

S. E. Chandler
is an author and poet based in Asheville, NC.