Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Laurel+Poet=Brunch with Michael Lally

This morning I had brunch with Michael Lally, author of South Orange Sonnets and 26 other books. "Let's go to The Laurel," Michael said. "Excuse me, could you repeat that word?" "Like the crown you put on someone's head, Laurel." Seemed right -- I'd already named Michael the poet laureate of my neighborhood. South Orange Sonnets opens with the line, "In books it was the Lackawanna Valley." For those who live here that triggers the feeling of the train rolling by, its soothing promise of travel to lull us to sleep. His writing is laden with details that are a particular gift, expanding my place, letting me know it anew and for the first time. "The Laurel is gourmet comfort food for me and owned by a relative," he went on to explain. "Right across the street from the toy store." The toy store in Maplewood Village is a highlight of the Christmas season for my family, but The Laurel is a place I hadn't visited. On the other hand "gourmet comfort food" was irresistible. I was waiting outside, holding two books, a copy of Urban Alchemy to give to Michael and a copy of It's Not Nostalgia for him to sign for me. A man came walking by, and caught sight of Urban Alchemy. He did a doubletake. "Can I see your book?" I showed it to him -- "It is my book," I said. "I wrote it." "So you're Mindy? I'm working on Engage Maplewood, an effort to get more transparency in the city." I had gotten a postcard about their work when I was at Maplewoodstock on Saturday -- they had called a community meeting about the plans to update a major building on the village's Main Street. "Oh, my book is exactly what you need," I said with enthusiasm. "I was drawn to the title because my daughter runs the store Alchemy Hour around the corner." "We shop there a lot!" Michael arrived just then and I introduced him to my new friend, who said, "Where does this happen that you meet people like this, only in Maplewood!" For weeks I had been wondering what would I say, but Michael is a constantly pushing river of conversation. I joined the torrent and started to change, as when he told a story to point out assumptions I hadn't realized were assumptions, or ended with reflections on the true nature of consciousness. But it's not just what he says but the way he puts things. He told me a story about getting to know his brother and he added detail after detail, taking me into the whole event and preparing me to be there with him when he looked his brother in the eye and saw -- not diminishment -- love. The details go to the breath and open it up. We talked for a long time. The people who there having breakfast left. We were the only customers there. "Is it closing time?" Michael asked the waitstaff. "No," they laughed. And a bit later I noticed some other people had arrived and the noise of their conversations was filling the room. Michael was explaining what Hubert Selby, Jr., thought about the nature of consciousness, and said, "Let's go to the bookstore, see if The Willow Tree is in stock. I'll buy it for you." They didn't but we agreed I could buy it on-line. We said good-bye and he promised we'd meet again when he'd read Urban Alchemy. And that was my Main Street morning.

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