As far as pure prose, Elizabeth Smart’s By Grand Central Station I Sat Down & Wept is my favorite book of all time. I believe I have read this slim but heart-packed masterpiece over a dozen times since first finding my copy in a used book store in Athens, Ohio while I was in college. That store is no longer there, but my memories of it and the day I found this book hidden between science fiction pulp are stark and severe.
I had never heard of this book, of Elizabeth Smart, or of the poet George Barker before that day. It was less than a dollar and after buying it, I read it almost immediately. The book’s slim majesty and pulpy smell was a veritable aphrodisiac. I read it in one emotional sitting. I felt transformed. It was akin to the feeling I had when I first read Emily Dickinson — something was pounding a little harder in my chest, the ground beneath my feet had more meaning and more roiling joy and sadness. This book meant so much to me then, and in the years to come, but now it resonates like a canker sore clinging stubbornly to the linings of my mouth and heart.
This book spoke to me more the other night when I read it again than it ever had … I felt, in an absolute sense, what Smart feels in the book. By Grand Central Station is an autobiographical prose work like no other. In this slim volume, Smart managed gracefully the arduous task of compiling her every emotion, thought, hangup, and confusion with her lover, poet George Barker. The proverbial monkey wrench in this affair was Barker being married to another woman, but always being with Smart as well, even having several children by her. She could never really resolve this within herself. But she also couldn’t bring herself to leave the willing (however not wholly willing) arms of the man she loved.
What I face now and see in all of this is not a conundrum just like Smart’s, but a defacement of my own heart in my refusal to accept this. This. Love and fear like choking on the thought of never again being near one particular set of lips just far enough down several roads to be close and not. Fear comes. Loss comes. And then those thoughts start again … those bad neurotic words pounding themselves into me like otherworldly leeches … buried and burning and I never feel I can come back up for air as they suck suck my soul with their prehistoric, painful flair.
I only hope this moment I can speak about it a few sentences to that particular ear that matters.
I only hope so many things right now.