Living, Loving, and Leaving, John Rapoza, photographs by Rodrick Schubert

My husband brought back this little book of poetry from his trip to Colorado last week. I found it in his suitcase, and I suspect he pulled it off the shelves from somewhere in his parents’ home. It was published locally and written as a tribute to Rapoza’s late wife, who he cared for during a twelve-year struggle with Alzheimer’s Disease. He grew up in New England and lived for a time in California and Pennsylvania before moving to Boulder.

There was something about this little biography that resonated with me. As New England transplant to the west coast, but also as a person who has watched several family members die after years with Alzheimer’s, his story stuck in me, and I decided to give him a read. The poetry is sweet, and very personal, and while this is not a book I would necessarily recommend to everyone, reading it transported me back to my childhood quite unexpectedly.

Many of the poems have a rhyming scheme, something I’ve actually detested since I was old enough to read Dr. Seuss and A.A. Milne. As an adult, I’ve developed an appreciation for those authors, and for others who write in a similar vein for all ages, but as a child, I didn’t care for the sing-songy element. Nevertheless, I remember sitting in my room, in the sun, books spread out all around me, reading from A Child’s Garden of Verses and Where the Sidewalk Ends. I honestly have no idea why. I didn’t even like those books, but I think I just wanted to turn the pages and read aloud something I didn’t quite understand. I wanted to look at the old drawings and string long lines of poetry together under my breath. I would whisper the words just loud enough to hear them myself; it wasn’t a performance, but rather, an almost trance-like experience.

Reading this book reminded me of that (and reminded me again of what a very odd little duck I must have been). Here I was, decades later, curled up on the couch in the sun spending many minutes reading and rereading some of his poems while taking only a moment to skim others. Sometimes I stopped just to listen to the one bird who had taken up residence outside, or to the stream of cars passing by with that familiar tire swish a block away, and it struck me again how much power books have.

I had no intention of revisiting that little pink bedroom with its scalding metal radiator, and the holes in the window screen that I carefully widened with one finger, the little white bookcase that separated my room from my brother’s. That room had a closet full of witches. It had charcoal grey carpeting that rubbed my knees raw and the perfect place to sit to wave across at my best friend’s bedroom window. The door never closed right, and the walls were covered with art that even then I knew wasn’t very good.

I only lived in that room for five years, but after reading Rapoza’s book, I could remember how I’d organized my books (from the top shelf down by favorite author, either in alphabetical or sequential title order – Little Women, for example, was on the third shelf on the middling right, Roald Dahl’s novels were the top all the way to the left), what I kept on my dresser (a giant ugly purple plastic makeup box filled with hair ties, electric blue eye shadow and silver matte lipstick, and necklaces I’d made myself; there was also a brown hair brush, and some poorly crafted ceramic mugs I made in pottery class), and what stories were read to me there at night before bed (The Princess and the GoblinRebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Anne of Green Gables, Pollyanna, The Year at Maple Hill Farm, A Little Princess…).

I haven’t thought of that room in years. It didn’t matter to me until I happened to pick up a book that reminded me so strongly of what it felt like to explore reading when I was young. It was sunlight. Even when it stormed or snowed or I woke up in the middle of the night and snuck into the bathroom to read, it felt like bright hot sun on my hair. It was a glorious, strange, solitary thing. It was everything to me, really. Rapoza’s poems are not groundbreaking literary work, but they’re special because they evoked something unbelievably powerful for me as a reader, and when it comes down to it, that is all a book is desperate to do.

3 thoughts on “Living, Loving, and Leaving, John Rapoza, photographs by Rodrick Schubert

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