Lately I’ve been a frequent visitor of both libraries and cemeteries and I’ve found that stepping into a cemetery is a lot like walking into a public library. True, most are outdoors; the tomes (yes, I meant to spell it that way) they carry are shelved in sunlit rows, open to wind and rain, shaded by a canopy of trees or caressed only by the shadows of passing clouds. Still, looking out over the gravestones is not unlike peering at thousands of book spines. The author is pretty universal, I’ve noticed, though He (She, they, depending on your beliefs) can go by quite a number of pen names and often is acknowledged by a symbol only, or not at all. The publication dates span from times all but forgotten into the painful present. Oddly, it is the main character of each story most proudly acknowledged on the majority of these stone covers, and though many bare the same name, no two characters are alike, nor can a character turn up in any other compendium. There are no sequels, or prequels for that matter; only a single debut for each creation. And whether romance, western, horror, or even a bit of science fiction creeps into a tale, all of these stories are easily classified as biographies.
Some biographies are quite thin, hardly a story to speak of, written in a matter of days, or even hours. Some took over a century to write. Many have extravagant covers, others so simple they are little more than a splintered bit of speechless wood. Occasionally you’ll find a columbarium, or collection of volumes, like members of a vast encyclopedia. A multitude were never “published,” but exist only in the hearts of those fortunate enough to have been a relation of or have otherwise known the protagonist at one time. As with any storytelling, much has been told that has never been written down. All that is left of countless volumes are a bit of dust on a shelf somewhere, or lost altogether to the wind. Characters featured in flash fiction-length manuscripts through to heavy chronicles can range from heroes to villains to quest seekers; they can be destitute, lost or unnoticed or can be legendary, famous. They could be Hester Prinns, Huck Finns or Captain Ahabs. Tom Robinsons have appeared far too frequently, in many ethnicities, male or female, and called by countless names. I haven’t heard of many Gandolfs, but I’m sure a handful have blown through over the centuries. Surely there have been many an accused witch, without a stone to speak for them. And so many fit into no class but their own, or seem to travel between the lines of their stories like ghosts before their time.
These outdoor libraries are strange indeed–open to all, so public, and yet… so private. All who come know they will find their name printed (er, carved) in stone some day, or the ashes of their beloved story scattered across time. And no one will be able to pry their stories open. There will be published reviews still available, illustrations and probably many photographs ripped from the pages, but little more. These single edition tomes are sealed forever. We know just enough to wonder. Every one has the same beginning, and the same end, though of course by various means. It’s the details, the nuances, the poetry of life bound too tightly for the living to get more than a glimpse of that makes us catch our breath. As much as they are biographies, they are mysteries, until we, too, find ourselves lined along those earthen shelves. Among the libraries of life we find the strangest reality of all, a universal rule that says that nothing at all can be checked out–only returned.
~ Kristina Wojtaszek ~