My sister used to give me blank journals for my birthday, Christmas, whatever. In those years she was single, living in Wrigleyville, or she had one or another of her fun boyfriends. On summer weekends she’d go to street fests or art fairs, which Chicago seemed to host in giddy profusion, basically an excuse for day drinking while shopping and listening to bands. She knew I preferred unlined pages, less common at the stationer’s, so she’d always make it her mission to buy me the prettiest blank journal, each a different height and heft, with covers of marbled paper or embossed leather or vintage fabric. She got a kick out of how much I loved them, her wordy, nerdy little sister. Gradually, because it takes a long time to fill a journal, I accrued a surplus. Each time I finished one, which was maybe every nine months, maybe longer, I’d carefully select another from my bookshelf. I must have amassed close to two dozen by the night my sister up and died without word, as if she foresaw I’d never not need an empty room to howl in, for all the good it would do me.
Beth Ann Fennelly, the poet laureate of Mississippi from 2016 to 2021, has won grants from the Academy of American Poets, the NEA, and United States Artists, and was awarded a Fulbright to Brazil. Her sixth book, Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs (W. W. Norton), was an Atlanta Journal-Constitution Best Book and a Goodreaders’ Favorite. Learn more about Beth Ann’s upcoming five-day workshop on short-form nonfiction in Maine here.
This essay originally appeared in the Kenyon Review (Jan/Feb 2022).