A Delicate Mess

I sit, carefully constructed. Coffee lies within reach. Legs crossed, on the couch, a pillow settled as a spongy lap-desk. A plate balances on the pillow’s apex, a beautiful pastry holding court at the center of my being. In my left hand I balance a paperback copy of M Train by Patti Smith. I use my right to bring the mug to my lips, to grab pieces of pastry.

But this is not just any pastry. This is a kouign amann, still slightly warm from the oven, shellacked by caramelized sugar and butter. Chewy crispy unctuous whisper of burn. Eating while reading counts as one of life’s great pleasures, a merging of two delicious activities into one. And yet laminated pastry requires attention. It will not go smoothly down the gullet. It will shower flecks of golden brown confetti crust everywhere. So I break it into graspable pieces in phases, tearing off a corner, prying it into even smaller pieces that can be individually consumed.

I am awed by the breaking of crust, revealing the softly resistant layers that ache to remain together even as a I pull them apart. For a time, I eat my bites and read. But then I need to deconstruct the main body into more pieces, requiring a pause in the book, a focus on delicately digging in my digits, and then licking my finger-tips free of the evidence.

“We are guided by roses, the scent of a page.”

Patti Smith, M Train

I return to Patti, who’s broken from her languor to a frenzy of travel and work in order to afford the busted-down bungalow in Rockaway Beach that she purchased because it and the beach and the local coffee cafe called to her soul. She’s obsessed with Murakami and Kahlo and detective shows. In her melancholy, I find a suitable companion for my own. Patti spends much of the book traveling around the world or sitting in cafes writing and reading and drinking copious amounts of coffee. And yet, M Train is in many ways a travelogue of aloneness—of the torpor that builds isolating walls; the grief of being a widow, still, after all these years; the exquisite solitude of the life of the mind.

I look down at my lap. The kouign amann requires attention if I am to continue eating. My coffee needs to be refilled. I set M Train on the couch, face-down, Patti’s pensive cover portrait drawing my eyes. Don’t worry, I whisper. I’ll be right back.

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