ode to the library

here, in the venice branch library
just west of beyond baroque literary arts center
the place where i feared to tread
then walked in one day
and walked out an organizer
a curator of the dark sublime
a bridge between whites & browns
cruising the 90 freeway, our great divide
to poetry slams
art exhibitions
bluesy readings
memorials, tributes to the risen ones
who hold our backs straighter
as we write to the smallest stage, us
to the larger one, god
to what seems to be the largest of all
them, audiences
seeking connection with this page
which is to say
my heart

oh, the confessions i’ve shared
and relied upon
to love me up
when the tears of years
have weighed me down so

here, at the library
i remember my first apartment blocks away
driving a carnation pink scooter all the way to work
taking venice boulevard
cutting north
until i got to wilshire boulevard
just shy of vermont avenue

this was the upscale stretch of downtown l.a.
home to the brown derby, i. magnin’s and bullock’s wilshire
where polite luncheons were served
models donning pencil skirts
and well-constructed purses

with frozen hair and frozen smiles
ambled in front of young mothers
and well-behaved daughters, eating politely
while dreaming a future in those clothes
an accessible couture
magnificently tailored and ladylike
appropriateness, attainable for a price

here, though, at the library
i’m remembering saturday afternoons
curling up with a dictionary
and the complete plays of shakespeare
memorizing richard the third’s monologue
in which he claimed the audible ugly
the unfinished form
that was woefully him
and me
barely twenty-one
would weep these words
as if i wrote them
as i spoke the verses aloud
they shaped the otherness i felt
the misshapen experience i lived
as a tall, big-boned girl
growing up in the shadows of hollywood
poolside with the nearly rich
adjacent to the beverly hills experience
i never wanted, not really
except the access to self acceptance
the entitled stalwart stride
through each open door
opened widely
for me

i wish i had chosen library doors
instead of an all night movie house
in the deepest downtown l.a.
wish i knew how to turn my imagination around
to a story in the stacks
a safe place
instead of spending my last few dollars
on roller skate rentals at the beach

my path followed by someone meaning no good
the breaking that would unfold into poems
and hard work saving
saving

as i sit in the venice branch library
there is the soft clicking of low heels
the whispered slide of shelves being restocked
there is a woman nearby
a mother, most likely
her eyes thumbing young adult fiction

there is a tattooed middle aged surfer
watching a film on a portable dvd player

between periodicals and books in spanish
an older man, all silver
considers the stacks

i am sitting in a sunny place
where light is reshaped by vertical blinds
the crowns of palm trees
and pendant lanterns above me
perhaps there isn’t a resolution
to this life
but i will continue to do what i do best
speak what i claim to know
and hope to be remembered
by a shore that has recorded
every transition i’ve lived
the shore of books, i mean to say
the place of the open story
that finds me
as i become, again
and, blessedly
again


Imani Tolliver

Imani Tolliver (she/her) is an award-winning poet, artist, educator, public speaker, and event producer. An interdisciplinary artist, she is a collagist and watercolorist. She is a graduate of Howard University, a Cave Canem Fellow, and served as Poet Laureate for the Watts Towers Arts Center. Rooted in social justice, Imani has curated and produced a wide portfolio of arts and cultural programming that celebrate, reflect, and amplify the voices of diverse communities. Find out more about at ImaniTolliver.com