Nance Van Winckel
Excerpts from BOOK OF NO LEDGE

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The Book of No Ledge

As usual, it starts with love. I had my heart set on the door-to-door encyclopedia salesboy. Maybe eighteen or nineteen, he said he was working his way through college. He winked a turquoise eye at me and asked if I was the “lady of the house.”

Well, I wasn’t. I was thirteen-going-on-seventeen and vaguely trying to flirt. My mother came out on the porch to see who I was talking to, and NO, she said, we don’t need any books. She smiled, though, and wished him luck in school.

I followed him down the walk and told him to come back tomorrow after I’d had a chance to work on my mother. Sure, he shrugged, why not.

I could really use those encyclopedias for my school projects, I told my mother later. And so could Sally (my sister). My dad was suddenly behind it. His family had been a bit more bookish than my mother’s.

When the cute guy returned the next day, he was all business. I watched as he showed my parents the full set. The pages were silky. Thirteen volumes and an Index. As I passed Volume N (with the information about how the nose worked!) back to him, he caught my eye and gave me an appreciative nod. My tween-size heart felt too large for my chest.

Of course once the check was written the boy evaporated back into summer’s humid mist, never to be seen again. But I could walk by and caress the books and in so doing call him again into my mind, which I did for years. For years I dipped into those encyclopedias. The knowledge of the world was inside. I perused. I skimmed.

Much to everyone’s surprise, most of all mine, I did indeed use them. With friendly and helpful manners and the smoothest, most confident voice of The World, an all-knowing authority, almost godlike, stepped forth from the text. Dinosaurs. The sad and short lives of the poets I was just beginning to read. The ALL I needed to know about the states to which my family would move in the coming years: Illinois, Wisconsin, Washington, and the states in which we’d previously lived: Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, New York, Connecticut.

Every page offered a surprise! Every page featured Mr. Explainer giving me the lowdown with a winking turquoise eye, a nod, or sometimes a shrug because I was getting older and the books had begun to have a bit of a musty smell and he was beginning to feel unsure I still loved him as I had, especially when I turned into a much older woman and had these nice sharp scissors and even X-Acto blades, and Oh, you’re not sure that the white man helped the tribal people as well as I’ve so carefully outlined? No, dear, the solar flares aren’t scary. Please don’t fret. And please point that glue stick elsewhere. Surely you won’t chop away that whole paragraph about the wonderful westward expansion and put some little poem in its place. A poem is not a fact, dear. Wait! We’ve been together for almost half a century! How could you! You know I loved you first. You know I loved you best!

—Nance Van Winckel, June 2015

Nance Van WinckelNance Van Winckel’s newest books are Ever Yrs., a novel in the form of a scrapbook, and Pacific Walkers, her sixth collection of poems. Book of No Ledge is forthcoming in 2016 from Pleiades Press. The recipient of two NEA Poetry Fellowships and awards from the Poetry Society of America, Poetry, and Prairie Schooner, she has new poems in The Pushcart Prize Anthology, Field, Poetry Northwest, and Gettysburg Review. She is on the M.F.A. faculty of Vermont College of Fine Arts. More of her visual photo-collage work may be viewed at:

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