Chlora’s Book Satchel

Excerpt from Chlora's Book of the Month Club: October
Copyright Feb. 2018, Ginger Henry Geyer

Chlora’s book satchel sagged open,
its mouth gaping and
ready for a refill.
She had just dumped last month’s stash
of library books
into the return slot.
Thump they went, each slipping through
except for the art book that was too fat to fit.
It demanded the counter top.

Chlora dug 25 cents out of the front pocket for
those which were overdue.
Not a bad way to spend one’s meager allowance,
if you couldn’t get to the library on time.
Or if you had checked out the book
as many times as allowed
and still could not call it finished.

The librarian looked over the mini glasses
pinned to her nose and warned Chlora
not to overfill her book satchel
or the handle would rip off.
Chlora quickly flipped it around
so the librarian would not see the photo
on the front. She had borrowed it
from one of the art books just turned in,
and out of a guilty conscience had
added an extra quarter to the fine box.

On the front pocket of the satchel
was a polite little Virgin Mary
getting educated by her mom, Queen Anne.
Chlora liked that painting
because she’d just read about Caravaggio
and his chiaroscuro,
meaning dramatic light and dark.
And this painting was full of it—
chiaroscuro, not drama.
It was hushed, aflush, a simple domestic scene
she’d discovered it by accident in a book
about an artist named
Georges de la Tour.
Mary was just about Chlora’s size,
with long straight hair
and a flat chest.
She held a candle in one hand
and shielded the flame with her other.
It threw a shadow of a basket onto the wall
as she obediently read aloud,
while we read the bones of her small hand
as if in an X-ray.

Anne held out the glowing book,
most likely from the prophets of old,
as they didn’t have the New Testament yet.
Did they tell of a virgin birth,
Did they warm her up
to the idea of getting pregnant
in a few short years, still small,
unmarried and shamed?
She would conceive by the Holy Spirit
who at least asked her first.
She consented to the flame.

Chlora figured the painting’s title
“Education of the Virgin” made it a fitting
image for the pocket of
her trusty plaid book satchel.
Besides coins, the pocket held pencils,
A small notepad, a pocketknife
and scotch tape, just the basic
necessities for library visits.
When a picture was so appropriate,
it didn’t mind being carefully
cut out of the book
and taped down somewhere
where it really belonged,
where it was needed.

To offset her vandalism of library books
Chlora imposed a discipline upon herself.
The librarian had suggested she limit her choices,
just like at the buffet at Luby’s:
Don’t let your eyes get bigger than your stomach.
Do one alphabetic section at a time.
She had already made it through the artists
alphabetized up to the letter J.
It was not easy to not jump ahead,
but if she hadn’t made herself stop at the D’s
on D Day, she would’ve never looked at de la Tour.
Degas, Delacroix, or Derain, all French;
it had been a good day.
Today was J Day, and she was
tempted by Jongkind
until a small gold book binding glittered
off to the right.

It said Klimt.
Chlora pulled it out and sat on the floor
right there in the aisle.
Flipping through the glossy pages
her eyes warmed and enlarged to take in the
landscapes of fluttery green,
broken and whole like a Byzantine mosaic.
A kiss enveloped in gold and jewels,
a woman with a willowy neck and halo of hair,
a painter unafraid of lavender.
And then this: a big thigh.
Flesh of every tone, sprinkled with gold,
it swelled into the space but belonged to
a sleeping redhead naked as a jay bird
coiled up with a shower of coins
curving between her legs.

No doubt that’d wake her up.

Was this a Me Too moment?
Chlora set her down and walked over
to the reference books,
found one on mythology
and learned this Danae
was stuck in a tower of bronze when
the mighty Zeus came to her in the form of
a metallic spray, a celestial visitation,
and just like Mary with the Holy Ghost
she got impregnated
with no mess, no fuss, no glee nor pain,
and birthed a god.

Shedding her royal purple veil
and her rolled down stocking,
a mass of curls cradling her face,
Danae dreamt with parted lips,
of all the strands of burnished color
reserved for an autumn’s day.
Danae would uphold the back side
of the book satchel, reminding Chlora
that what you read wakes you up,
that when curled up with a good book,
the gods might come
and penetrate you with the word.