In 2020 we continue to feature extraordinary works of writing by recent Ranch guests. Each piece focuses on The Ranch and moments of personal insight, observation, or awareness.
Looking for Erica in the Rare Books Room by Jill Bronfman
I only had a few minutes that Wednesday afternoon while my husband was taking our daughter for ice cream. I found myself walking into Powell’s New and Used Books in Portland, Oregon. At the front desk, I grabbed a map and then climbed up several flights of stairs and pressed my nose against the glass surrounding the Rare Books Room. Inside the room, with the cord of the free pass wound around my wrist for safekeeping, I stood at the tiny shelf of crumbling poetry books in the far right-hand corner.
Is there anything by Adrienne Rich? I do not see her name on any of the threadbare spines. I wrote a 30-page thesis paper on her work in high school, when two pages was an eternity to spend in front of a typewriter and there were boys to pursue. I retyped pages and pages to correct my errors. I held the pages I had typed up to the light to compare them to her poems, to see if I had missed any words. Then I saw Marianne Moore, pushed flat so we can see not her spine but only her face. She is so fresh, still. But Erica, where is Erica?
I met Erica Jong at Rancho La Puerta in Mexico last year and introduced myself with a fluttering heart and a proffered personal connection. My husband’s cousin had been her publisher an eon ago, and this remembrance brought so much light to her face.
The icon sat in a chair with wooden arm rests, graciously greeting all the women waiting in line with confessions of sexual awakening and creative metamorphosis. She talked about what it was like to be young and desirable as a woman and as a writer, and the waves underneath her that pushed her in every direction. She read a poem, she read a story. She listened to a man read a story about fishing and then told him a story about his writing.
It could have happened that Wednesday afternoon in the Rare Books Room at Powell’s. Erica’s first edition of eager and lucid words could have slid into my hands, both waiting cupped as for a full drink of water. Instead, I toured the room in a circle and ran my index finger down several strangers’ spines, thinking I could read nearly anything and think something new. Instead, I heard her speak her own words, not once, but twice.
Less than a year later, Erica Jong dropped a new book of verse. I listened to her recite her poem about immigration and the three-year-old boy found face down on the beaches of the Mediterranean. I caught the fresh book in my open hands. Yes, I thought, it is all ripe fruit. Soon enough each of us will be in some Rare Book Room or another, and I will find the words.