Editor’s Note: Back in June, I made a video for the Rumpus Poetry Book Club. I read a poem from our June selection, Allan Peterson’s Fragile Acts among the people in a statue on the campus of Drake University. Mary Mann used that as a jumping off point for this new series. If you’d like to write something about where you’re reading, submit them to us here under the Poetry section. Thanks!
My office is a few blocks from Madison Square Park, and in the summer this is my favorite place to read. With my lunch in a tupperware and whatever cardigan I’ve been wearing in my over-air-conditioned office as a picnic blanket, I sit down in the grass and open my book.
The happy hum of people in the park is the perfect background for reading. It distracts neither by sudden noises or silence. When we had the earthquake last summer I’d been lying down on my back, my purse as my pillow, reading Jonathan Lethem’s As She Climbed Across The Table. The rumbling below me felt so much like a train passing that I didn’t even note it, and no-one around me seemed to either. I didn’t even think about the fact that no trains pass below the middle of Madison Square Park.
Another afternoon I was sitting cross-legged and reading Beryl Markham’s West With The Night while eating a salad, when something very hard and solid hit me in the forehead. I came out of the book dazed and rubbing my face and looked over to see a little boy twirling a fully extended yo-yo around his head.
This occurred during a particularly difficult period of my life, and I had the urge to tell the child with the yo-yo about my windowless summer sublet, laughable bank account, and my predilection for self-obsessed men. My thus-far undeformed face (I had yet to see whether the yo-yo had left a mark) might actually be the only asset I had. But the kid was about four years old, so instead I said “ouch” and rubbed my forehead, and the little boy returned to his mom, who took away the yo-yo but didn’t apologize.
In this park, I had a picnic on a boat with the characters of Into the Lighthouse and dove deep into intrigue with a family even crazier than my own in The Broom of the System; I laughed out loud while rereading Anne of Green Gables for the first time since grade school, and I accidentally took a two-hour lunch while reading the last few chapters of Anna Karenina.
Today the park is busy but my reading hour is uneventful. To the left of me a woman lies on her belly in a bikini, eyes closed, earbuds in. To the right two businessmen sit with their legs splayed out awkwardly before them, like two big babies in Dockers, eating burritos from the nearby Calexico cart. An older man in a suit and tie does tai-chi in front of me. I’m reading Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding, and it’s really good. There’s a nice breeze. I take a bite of my apple and turn the page.