Saturday, February 29, 2020

"The inability of humans to escape the deprivations of our upbringings": Polly Buckingham on Hezada! I Miss You

"The circus comes again and again and again. Children fantasize it staying permanently. Masterfully told in tiny bites of consciousness from major and minor characters alike, Hezada! I Miss You explores sadness and grief and the inability of humans to escape the deprivations of our upbringings. Over and over we’re told the tale of the elephant who died from standing on her trunk. Hezada! is a stunning first novel—quiet and devastating, an elliptical tale of loss and the limitations and failures of a small town. The circus is always on the verge of arrival, and there is something deeply sinister in that." 
— Polly Buckingham, author of Expense of a View
Polly Buckingham, Missoula, MT 2019
(photo by Erin Pringle)

How I Met Polly Buckingham

The Expense of a View 
by Polly Buckingham
I never knew I'd tell this story so many times. Or write it out. But it must be a sign of something good to tell people how you know this person who keeps appearing nicely into your life. I'd seen Polly around for a while before I spoke to her. We read at the same Lilac City Fairy Tales event where I hugged Sharma for the first time. Polly read. I read. I left. I have no idea what Polly did afterward or for the next several years. Then, I went to the Montana Book Festival in 2017, and they'd scheduled Polly and me to read together.

So, it took a seven-hour roundtrip drive to a festival I'd never attended to meet Polly, who lives about twenty minutes away.

But, of course. That's how life works and it's only shocking if I don't think about all the people living on the same street who I'll never meet, regardless of how many times I run by/drive past/have coffee at a table away.

I read Buckingham's book of stories Expense of a View in Bernice's Bakery in Missoula during the festival, finishing it in time, or nearly in time, to meet her. And I was so so so pleased that I would get to meet her. Because her stories. Oh, I like her stories so well. Tinged with sadness like stars necessary to night, her stories ache and arrive in the strange angles that I recognize as true, real, part of my life experience.

Then we read together in Dana Gallery. But she was sick. She had a new dog, adopted, mistreated previously, confused and wondering why he was in Missoula. She stayed mostly at the hotel, sneezing.

But our friendship had begun.

Eventually, we met in Spokane and hiked together. In summer. Again in winter. Another winter. This winter.

View from a winter run with Polly, near Cheney, WA (Dec. 2019)
Last summer, we began training for the swimming portion of the triathlons we would do together. She has done many, many triathlons. This would be my summer to be a strong swimmer, much less participate in my first and second triathlons. During one swim in the lake by her house, we pulled a man--stranded in a boat with a broken motor and no paddles--to shore, one end of the rope around the front of his boat, the other around our hands, swimming exactly like two women do when they're training for triathlons but will save a man before starting their mile swim.

Now, we're running together. I'm training for my first marathon; she's training for her first half-marathon; we'll do them both at Priest Lake this May (yes, the same one Melissa Stephenson will do).

Even though I grew up rural and now live in the city, and Polly grew up in the suburbs and now lives rural, we've found each other in the crossing between our lives and the losses. Last night, at Boots Bakery, I was doing a reading, and before it began, I watched someone compliment Polly's ring. She said her stepfather had been wearing it when her mother met him, and when he was dying, he gave it to her mother. Then when her mother was dying, she gave it to Polly. It was a story I usually tell, answering that this tattoo I got after my best friend died. This tattoo is a mourning band for my sister. Here is why I just used past tense for a father, a sister. Here's a story about photography and my father, now dead. But I hadn't seen the story told before--the story of loss to an unassuming stranger. The shock on the listener's face to hear of so much death, the concern at having asked, what to do with this knowledge of a woman she just met. But Polly was smiling and her tender eyes. Because she'd just told a love story and how she became a part of it, beloved, loved, still here, though left. I've always loved this ring, she said.

These portals we wear to our past, or hang on the walls, or set on high shelves thinking one day we'll know what to do with them.

That's why I will continue swimming and running and walking alongside Polly Buckingham. Because she and I carry lives recognizable to each other and similarly reach for words and paper to soothe, salve, burn up the sky when the stars need to sleep on the darkest nights.

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