Though I'm still hoping to squeeze in a few stops in the Northeast, yesterday's reading at Cherokee County Public Library in South Carolina marks the end of the six month Bone Worship book tour. I'm incredibly grateful to all the writers, friends, bookstore managers, and librarians who helped make it a success!
The excerpt below is something I wrote for the last reading -- June 23, 2010 Gaffney, SC
Just eleven days ago, we climbed into a silver shell of a car and started across the country.
First over the dry land of Eastern Oregon, past stiff-legged pronghorn standing in irrigated fields of spinach, of lettuce, and then through pink canyons, the steep walls rising up around us like a pre-dug grave. We stopped once to watch the river, to let our dog wolf down dry weeds, to watch a coyote watch us, his eyes baleful as he ran with a mouse between his teeth up the side of a mountain, his face half in shadow.
We were coming back South, coming back home, you could say, though it had been so long we couldn’t remember what home meant, or if we would even recognize it when we got there. Who could say if home would recognize us, two bedraggled people and a dog, a pack of three, seven years changed.
We stopped at motels planted in deserts, lights humming in the darkness, Indian immigrants who had not slept in months running everything. Their elderly snow-haired fathers stood with hoses dangling from their fingers, keeping the grass alive so tourists’ dogs could pee on it. Their beautiful daughters shyly collected dirty sheets in the morning, long after everyone had disappeared down a vein of highway, of memory.
Almost immediately on our journey, the radio broke, and we were left with only our voices, raw and dry and salty. We asked each other questions, and those questions led us places. It was a long drive through the West.
We drove into the Rockies, past the flooded rivers of Wyoming, everything still green beyond the season. We drank milkshakes in Nebraska, in restaurants half underground, tornado contingency plans taped to the walls. A corner of Iowa, a hot afternoon through Illinois. Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina. And then, finally, like a surprise, the land leveled out. South Carolina. The orange clay visible like a sub-layer of skin.
I was born here. In this place. Almost immediately on my journey, the umbilical cord broke, and I was left with only questions. I tried to find my voice, but what came out was raw and dry and salty. I looked for stories, and those stories led me places, into and out of the South. A good story, you see, from birth to life, will take you far, and you will have to see and learn much to tell it.
A childhood spent outside, the heat puckering my scalp, fire ants, copperheads, mourning doves. Every morning waking to that call – bobwhite, bobwhite. Days digging mud holes, or “swimming pools,” as we called them, building ramps to climb rusty fences into cow pastures, the promise of some vast unknown world.
But the thing is, we were right. It was unknown. It’s still unknown.
Because no matter how many times I come home, it is new and strange to me. I will forever be shocked by the Amazonian tangle of woods. Thumb-sized toads wedged into the corner of the cool, brick stairs. I’ll always sit up in the middle of the night, surprised to hear birds singing.
I started this book seven years ago in the attic of my parents’ house, bare feet on an orange carpet, typing away on a long dead computer resting atop an old black table with a crack down the center. I never thought about anyone reading it. Instead I hoped it would lead me somewhere, deep into the heart of a mystery, into the promise of a grown-up’s vast unknown. I didn’t know what I’d do when I got there. Maybe I’d be looking over a cliff. I wrote down my questions, hoping they’d lead to answers.
Six months ago, Bone Worship came out in print. Almost immediately, I broke with who I was, and I began to travel the country. Portland, Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago. Fan mail, hate mail, interviews, radio programs, people weeping, people laughing, strangers becoming friends. My hand around a pen, my hand in other hands. Eighteen stops later, my voice is raw and dry and salty. But I am telling a story, and now all of you are a part of it. Now, the story has circled around to where it started, right here, in this place of woods and birds, in this place of family and friends.
Andre Gide wrote, “In order to judge properly, one must get away somewhat from what one is judging, after having loved it. This is true of countries, of persons, and of oneself.”
For seven years, I’ve been away, from you, and from who I used to be.
Thank you for still recognizing me.
Causes Elizabeth Eslami Supports
Willamette Writers, The Association of Writers and Poets, The Association of Iranian American Writers