WANDERING & WONDERING: A Bittersweet Ending

I recently spent a happy afternoon with West Virginia-related poets, as the result of a sad afternoon.

Happiness first. The poems in Wheeling resident Kimberly Sinclair’s ribbon-tied chapbook “Lemon Grass and Red Curry” are full of family and food, wide on the page and risen plump with the yeast of memory. Barely halfway through its 30 pages, I know her mother’s instructions for choosing a pineapple, the décor of her grandmothers’ kitchens and one of their bathrooms, her secret addition to the family recipe for thumbprint cookies, and the design and location of her uncle Joe’s tattoo.

Bethany College graduate Jessie Janeshek’s book “Invisible Mink” introduces readers to a different cast of characters: female film stars from vintage films of the 1930s and later. While these are not PG poems, they’re so full of strong nouns and verbs and musical wordplay that they almost demand to be read aloud, possibly in the voice of whatever actress or character they seem to emanate from.

I was already familiar with longtime Wheeling poet and theologian Bonnie Thurston, but her book “A Place to Pay Attention” was new to me. “We are marked by the place we call home,” begins her poem “Personal Geography.” The book is marked by keen attention to West Virginia’s mountains, rivers and coal-dusted roads; it’s a clear-eyed gaze, and also an affectionate one.

I wouldn’t even know about these three writers if I hadn’t come across them the old-fashioned serendipitous way: finding them in a bookstore.  And that brings us to the sad afternoon.

Subscribe to Weelunk

I found these (and some other books, and a Brad Paisley CD, and some book-scented candles, and a hedgehog hand puppet) in March during a going-out-of-business sale at Words and Music, the independent Wheeling bookstore that recently closed its Stratford Springs shop.

I drove past Stratford Springs for years without knowing that Words and Music existed. When I had a book coming out in 2013, a family member told me I should try to sell some through Alan’s store. What store? Alan who?

It turns out, all those years I’d been driving up through Oglebay Park to visit family or see the lights, I was missing out on browsing a fine little bookstore (or saving myself from further bookaholic indulgence, depending on how you look at it).

Alan Lestini ran Words and Music for 25 years. He’s still selling words and music, but online only. And that is a loss.

So I’ll figuratively raise a glass of Mountain Moonlight to that “fiercely independent” bookstore where I stumbled across Bonnie Thurston’s “Practicing Silence,” and Patrick DeWitt’s  picaresque Western “The Sisters Brothers,” and Lucya Knisley’s graphic food memoir “Relish,” and other wonderful books I might not have found otherwise, and where the shopkeeper knew so many patrons’ names.

Laura Lynn Brown is a writer, editor and teacher living in Pittsburgh after 20 years working at an Arkansas newspaper. A native of Bridgeport, she worked briefly for the Wheeling News-Register and The Times Leader and earned an MFA in nonfiction writing from the University of Pittsburgh, where she now teaches composition part-time. Her first book is “Everything That Makes You Mom: A Bouquet of Memories.” She grew up riding the bus to Wheeling, eating at Hamburger Inn and Pappas Beef House, perusing the office supplies at Murphy’s Five and Ten, going to plays at Towngate Theater and finding treasures at Anne’s Corner on the Market.