Saturday, August 01, 2020

New Chapbook

This is a collection of poems that takes nothing for granted. The poet’s voice, experienced and clear, can also be vulnerable and unsettled. She tells us about life in narratives and meditations, observing the common scene (usually with an intricate bug in it) until the universal reveals itself anchored to a particular moment, supported by insights arrived at organically.
Many of these pieces are filtered through an almost elegiac tone. We watch the author walk the tightrope of our times with heightened awareness that the next moment may change everything, as in Kiss for the End of the World. She sometimes pinpoints presence becoming absence with images of disappearing: the fig that rides its fallen bough into a hole as big as night in Survival, or the Word on the Tip of Your Tongue. The relationship between nature and self is explored with appreciation and respect. Images of light and sound from the physical world often connote the fluidity of escape, a sense of vacancy, a poignant lack: the dragonfly outside a hospital window, fireflies illuminating more than a man intended.
Attention is the faculty that Simone Weil called “the very substance of prayer.” These poems attend to the senses, drawing us in with images that are precise, startling and evocative. The poet wends her way back in time and forward in psychological space. In All the Greens in the Wheel, the movement of time pushes us to think about the departures and arrivals in our own lives. Eliot says, “Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,” and Snell comes to her conclusions patiently, all the while condensing and distilling the perceptions she gathers.
 

Sunday, January 19, 2020

The Usual Qs A’d in Poetry



Q What about inspiration?

A--At first it's got no manners, eats
with its fingers, slurps the soup,
 kisses with too much tongue.
 It thumbs through my foolscap
with false starts, balls it up,
sighs and lies down with a cool cloth
on its forehead. All night imposters ring
the doorbell darting away like Halloween.
I do not notice when inspiration leaves
but when it returns, Sunday hat in hand,
I ask for some ID--
I am your ambulance, it says.
You are my car wreck



 Q What about writer’s block?

     A-- From the pink muscle, I’m about to pinch
           dangling syllables; but my fingers close
           around damp sandpaper. A garbled sound
           drops behind my teeth and I hear hard
           swallows, like a liar caught in his lie.
          Word, turn around and retrace this neck’s stretch
          with your true identity. The lights in
           my head will guide you…no —it’s no use:
           alphabets elude me while substitutes
           make mockery. The word is turning out
           of sight right now, a red bicycle down
           a bombed-out alley. I run toward it —
           only to find severed letters bobbing
           in confetti-strewn waters, and one owl
           cruising overhead, pinching something
           indecipherable in its beak.

Q-What made you want to write?

A--After a tornado hits, a girl may notice
what’s missing: the arm of a Tiny Tears,
her plastic Barbie’s plastic Ken. And if
she has no dolls, she may content herself
with teacups. If not cups, then saucers broken
on the tracks of a train rumbling through.
If not a train, a set of wheels trying to reach
full potential. Something crucial is yet to be
driven off in the darkened next-door:
her father’s heartbeat, a sister’s equilibrium.
Rails made porous and fluid as tap water—
a glimpse of the ghost in the hall.
If there is no ghost, a premonition
that someone will throw its words back
in its face. If not words, then gestures
behind the newspaper from which
conclusions jump. These are bad weather years.
Each one finds its own terror touching down.

Q--Any favorite books?

She clatters through the back door,
scowls at the librarian’s puckered shush,
scrapes chair to table, grabs a book
that falls open to text ticked and bracketed
by anonymous hands. She clucks softly,
angles the spine away from policing eyes,
searches each margin as if she had struck
the marks first, worried that some point
might be missed if not underscored yellow.  
 The girl sees impressions of her fingers
on the pages, hard evidence that books
are changed by readers they change.
She slaps covers closed, slides the volume
into the shelves and walks away empty-
handed, reverent, her mind roaring open.





Friday, June 03, 2016

Rescuing Ranu (4)



Chapter Four


Her new problem would keep her going  forward. It could  save her.  But as she got more  deeply involved with  it, her temper frayed without Jacksons influence and  inspiration. She snapped at students, colleagues, and  the administrative staff.   She abandoned her favorite old rituals, such as dispensing advice  to new students along  the lines of learn something new every  day that is disjoint from the problem youre  working on.” Such phrases seemed pointless now.   She began  to cancel classes. If the students showed up anyway, she ignored them,  and  continued to work  on her own problem at the board. She turned her back to the confused young people expecting to be taught something else, something that had  nothing to do with the scribbles  under Nelas chalk.  She dismissed their confusion. She was doing her own  dharma.
One day, Nela took out a paper on the hawk-dove game,  and  leaned back in her chair to read.  She read  on and on, and  hardly registered the knock  on her door. Enter! she called out, marking her place on the page with  her finger. How  had  she managed so many pages  in so little time?
A girl of about twenty, very thin, stood in front of her. The girls skin was damp, hair standing up at all angles,  and  she was nervously chewing her pierced bottom lip. She reminded Nela of a hatchling, another of the small creatures designed to make  adults feel protective. Yes?” said Nela.
“How come you didnt show  up for class?” the girl asked, almost inaudibly.
Nela glanced at her watch. Oh no!  I must  have lost track of time. Is anyone still in the classroom?
No, they all bailed  after ten minutes.
And no one thought to look for me here in the obvious place?”  I guess  they didnt think  that was their  job.
Nela should have let it end right  there,  let the clumsy comment pass. It was her fault, after all. But the girls impudence burned a hole in her stomach. She decided that she would reschedule the missed class, but begin all the ones to follow with  a quiz. The pupils who  absented themselves would fail that days quiz. She announced the news  in class the following day.
She told herself  that she was doing it for the students own good. It was not a spiteful gesture, the sprawling students rolled  eyes and  theatrical groans notwithstanding. Someday they would thank her for preparing them for their futures. They would inherit  the reins of the field, after all, and  Nela must  not let standards slip.
After a few sessions,  Nela noticed that some of the students would not take the quizzes. They sat in their  seats, pencils  dancing between thumbs and forefingers, but left their  papers face side down on their desks.  They would not hand in the blank  sheets at the end of class, but left them  on their  desks while  they slipped out the door silently.  Soon, many more  did not even pick up their  pencils.
If they were going  to behave  like stubborn children, then,  Nela would teach them  like rank  beginners. Whats  a formula?” she demanded, peering into the sullen  crowd. The room buzzed, but she couldnt see exactly who was whispering. “Its not a trick question. I want a definition.” The students looked  confused. One boy raised his hand. Nela nodded at him.
“A formula is an expression in symbols.
She nodded curtly.  What is an equation?” Heads hung. Pencils tapped. The same hand rose.
An equation is two sets of expressions on either  side of an equality.
What is a calculation? The boy didnt bother to raise his hand this time.
“Its a process leading to expressions and equations,” he declared. Nela stared at the boy, trying to place him. He was from Japan.  Last week, she had overheard him telling  an older  student who suggested he pick up after himself  in the lounge, We have servants to do that where I come from.”   He was a typical  arrogant rich kid, but sure of his answers, and  therefore useful  for intimidating the less prepared students.
After class, the girl who first alerted Nela to her missed session  appeared at the office.  I have regularly scheduled office hours,” her professor reminded her. The girl closed the door behind her without a trace of her former timid quality. Nela could  have sworn she had  grown taller, too. She should be long past that.
We took a vote and we don’t think  its fair.
Life is notoriously not fair. But to what, specifically, are you referring?
“All these  damn quizzes,” she spat. Half the class is suddenly failing because of them.  They count  for a whole  third of our marks!  You can’t do that.
By whose authority?
The girl pulled  out a creased paper from her backpack. Weve all signed this. We want you to stop bullying us. We are your  employers. We pay your salary,  and  we want satisfaction. The customer is always right.
Nela felt the blood in her temples thud against her skull. Employers, indeed! Nela took the paper and  tore it in half, her black eyes boring into the girls ice blue ones. You may go now, she said in a voice as heavy as lead.

Two days  later, Nela, in her perpetual bad mood,  was angrily sweeping all her gyroscopes into a drawer when Ashoke walked in. Are you ready to give the exam, Nela? I will walk you.”   She made an exasperated gesture, but he just stood there  like a mountain. Or an ant hill.
Nela gathered her materials and  made for the door. Ashoke cleared his throat and  she wheeled around. What now?” He pointed to her feet. Sighing  and scowling, she kicked  off her running shoes and  shoved her toes into her pumps. May we go now?
Ashokes Adams apple moved in his throat like an animal all the way to the physics building, but Nela was not listening.  Suddenly, he became quiet, his face scrunched. Nela shot him a sideways glance.
We will need to have a chat about your  teaching. We worry  that you may have lost interest,” he was saying. He placed a proprietary hand on her shoulder, which  she violently shrugged off.  I cannot postpone telling any longer. We have decided that one of us will come to listen in on your class now and  then.  I offered  myself in this service. I know you best, and  I may be able to help you regain interest in your  calling.
Nela reared back and leveled her blackest gaze at him. Dont try to intimidate me with  your  puffy title and  your  flimsy power! WE this and WE that! If you try anything with  me… She did not finish her threat, but plowed straight into her classroom. He followed her for a few steps,  and she abruptly pivoted to face him. Ashoke flinched under her glare, and scurried away  without another word.
Nela slammed the door on the hum  of voices. The sight of teenagers sprawled on their  seats irked  her more  severely than  usual. And  yet, that was no reason to slough off her duty towards them.  Administration had  a point. She was aware that her students were upset with  her. Just the day before, she had  seen one of them  in Ashokes office. The door was wide openAshoke made a point of that whenever he was with  a female  student, for all the good it did the girland Nela heard the girl complaining about her. She also caught a glimpse of Ashoke comforting the girl.  It was the same student looking  at her now,  dull eyes staring out at her from the third row.
“All cell phones on the table,”  Nela ordered. A wave of protest rippled through the room, but Nela, arms crossed  over her chest, stood at the table, immoveable. A small hill of devices  began  to pile up, and  Nela walked to the front of the room to take her seat. A few of the little machines in the pile began  to ring, and  their  owners shuffled to the back to turn them  off. Nela assumed that they cheated with  their  devices,  but she didnt know exactly how.   She passed out the test and  said, You have one hour. This will count  as one third of your marks. Show your  work.
Heads bowed in unison, and  nothing more  was heard except the occasional cough  and  the scratch  of pencil on paper. Nela looked  at the array of phones on her table. So it had come to this. She tried  to recall what trend had irritated her own  teachers, but came up with  nothing. The last golden age of obedient innocents? The Americans must  view the fifties this way, never  mind the population of mothers on tranquilizers.
Nela stretched her legs and  bent down to examine the faulty  heel on her shoe. Out of her peripheral vision,  she sensed one students hand upturned suspiciously under the desk. Nela bolted upright, jerked  away  from the table and  marched to where the student was now furtively and furiously rubbing her palm.  Let me see,” Nela said.
The girl raised her long-lashed eyes to her teacher. See what, eh? she asked.
Your hands, Nela ordered. The girl offered  the innocent one first, still rubbing the other  one on her knee.  Nela grabbed that one and  held it to the light. Thats an old-fashioned way to cheat. Id have thought you kids would go in for a more  modern way.”  She spit the words out like bullets.
The girl opened her mouth, to protest, so Nela thought. A long wail came out instead. No fair,” the girl sputtered. I didnt cheat. Its not what you think.
Nela let the hand drop as if it had  scalded her. Oh, very well, thendeepest apologies! Her sarcasm plastered the girls spine  to the back of her chair. She sniffed  and  snuffled and rolled  her offended eyes toward Nela. Did she expect some tissues?  Nela stared at her until  the girl dropped her gaze. You only have forty more  minutes, class. Do not waste  it on rubbernecking! The stricken students turned back to their task.  Nela circled the room for the duration of every one of the remaining minutes, stopping at the accused students desk each time. She wanted to remind the girl she could  not be trusted.
When  the bell rang,  the students slapped their  papers onto her table. Although it was her habit to search  the departing faces to see whether her questions had  been too easy or too hard for them,  Nela no longer cared.  She did not look at them,  and waited for the rustling sound of fabric and  paper to subside. She sat in her chair for many minutes. Stay or go? She couldnt decide. There were  complications everywhere.

Nela walked down the corridor a few days  later, cradling her books in her arms.  She entered her classroom, resigned to the regularly scheduled interruption of her real work.   She called the class to order, and  as she lectured, she watched her charges eyes for a sign that they understood. A few students stared at her as if they were  in a contest in some bar, but instead of confronting them,  she passed a hand over her black bristles, raised her eyebrows, and  smiled briefly. She hoped to put them  off guard, and  the gesture did seem to startle them.  They ducked it, misunderstanding its
intent, looking  down at their  books again.  Nela was puzzled. Maybe  it was her shorn head.  They were  used  to seeing her with  her hair down to her waist,  and  perhaps this was the first time they noticed its loss. That must have been what all the whispering was about. Sheltered creatures, to have so little to talk about!
After class, Nela spent a peaceful hour rearranging her book shelves. It calmed her and  was one of the few activities that could  help her keep images of Jackson at bay. The tomes  were  her talismans, and  maybe, by extension, could  be his. Whenever she read  the precious spines, her father’s  presence also came back to her strongly:  Appa presiding over Saraswati puja, the children rocking on bare heels in front of the plinth of books, musical instruments and  garden shears composed a picture that could  still squeeze the air from her lungs.
From outside her office door came a rustling sound. Ashoke!  But no, it was an envelope sliding across the floor. It looked  official. She picked it up and  tore into it. Dear Professor Sambashivan,” she read,  This letter is to inform you that an undergraduate in your class had  lodged a complaint against you. The disciplinary board will meet to investigate the matter
Nela let the paper fall. It floated to the floor, quivering upward slightly with  a gust of air from the vent. She jabbed her heel into it. The girl she had caught cheating was trying to turn the tables on her! She began  to pace up and  down the room. She couldnt think  with  the blood rushing in her ears, so she yanked the door open  and  stomped into Ashokes office.
Dont  worry,” he said, as soon as the facts of the matter had  sputtered from Nelas mouth. “I serve on that committee.  No harm will come to you.” He took the liberty  of surrounding her tense shoulders with  his arm.
She walked out of his embrace, and  said, Since when can we not deal with  cheating in our own ways?
Alleged cheating, Ashoke corrected her. Nela furrowed her brows. She saw that he was not surprised by any of this. He knew  all about it, and hadnt said a word!  He could  have warned her. Why would he wish  the embarrassment of a situation like this on her? She searched the familiar face for answers. Finding none,  she slammed her fist on his desk just to see him jump.
In her own  office again,  she locked  the door and  stood in front of a shelf.  She read  the gold-embossed spines, whispering their names like prayers, prayers she didnt believe would be received. And,  if they were, received by whom? She believed in no God. The closest she had ever come to believing was during the Ganesh Chaturthi when she had fallen into a line of devotees with  prayers written out on scraps  of paper to give to the priests. She had written one, too, a wish  more  than  a prayer. Let Amma live. That prayer had  been granted. How  many more  were  allowed her?
So she faced her accusers. The committee  was made up of a chorus- line of her peers, who, in a war, should be on her side. These people would leave her for dead. Not one of the professors wanted to be there,  that was clear from the crossed  legs and folded arms.  The colleagues Nela knew  would not meet her eyes, and  the ones she knew  only by sight looked  at her with  calm curiosity. Not quite  indifference, but close.
Each of the colleagues was sipping coffee from disposable cups. Would it really be such an effort to stay awake through this? The complainer sat in a chair in front of the line of professors, her ankles  primly crossed.  Where  were the fake tattoos  and leather she had  been affecting all these  months? She was dressed to sway  a jury, face washed to a childlike innocence, borrowed clothes a size too big.
Nela stopped in front of her and  greeted her formally, hands together in a namaste. The onlookers gasped, as if she was harassing the child.  Well, why not make  the girl squirm? Although Nela had  no idea how a simple hello from another culture could  do that! Shuli, the token  woman in psychology, awkwardly tried  to steer Nela to the chair facing the row of professors, but Nela pulled  away  from the presumptuous hand on her elbow.  Shuli and  she had  exchanged greetings precisely three times in as many years.  How  dare  she touch  her!
Another teacher offered  the chair to Nela as if they were at a restaurant. She glared at him. He is not my peer, Nela pointed out to the room. “I do not know him! I challenge the make-up of this committee!
Dont  be so literal, my friend, Ashokes voice rose up from his seat in the middle  of the table, a stack of papers dwarfing him. Nela had not even noticed him. Was he really leading this fiasco, then?  She glowered at him. This is only an informal inquiry to get to the bottom of the misunderstanding.
The girl, already convinced of her status as a victim, rushed in indignantly. There  is no misunderstanding! She grabbed my hand in front of everybody, and  made that clucking sound she does. Everyone thought I was cheating! My rep is ruined!
You were  cheating!  Unless  your  palm  is a new place for decoration, as in the case of bridal henna  or tattoos,  and  you were just admiring it under the table.”  The cords in Nelas neck stood out.
The girl looked  confused first. Her expression quickly tightened to one of rage. Bridal  henna?  How  are we supposed to know what shes talking about?” she appealed to the others. The accent is bad enough! Her smooth cheeks burned.
Ashoke waggled his head  reflexively. So it is your  contention that Dr. Sambashivan harassed you by grabbing your  hand, and  further embarrassed you by the accusation that you were cheating?
She got no proof the girl swore  under her breath. “Define  proof, Nela wheedled.
Come to order! Ashoke pounded his little gavel. It looked  like a toy in his hand, and  thudded against the table ineffectually. Nela ignored him.
Dont  know? Ill give you a hint. A proof is a set of expressions leading to the truth of a theorem,” Nela taunted.
The girl appealed to the table of professors. She went  around the room during the whole  test, pacing and  pacing like some kind  of big cat or something, and every  time she passed me, shed stop and look at my paper. Then shed make  a sound like a growl or something and  it totally  freaked me out! Shes so whack!
Define  theorem,” Nela demanded. Dont know that one either?  A theorem is a logical statement with  hypotheses and  conclusions.
“Isnt she out of order or something?
Alright, Ms. Jameson, Ashoke said quietly. You may leave.” But dont I get a chance  to take the test over? It wasn’t  a fair test!
She made me too nervous!
Youre dismissed, Ms. Jameson, Nela said, grinning. The girl gathered her things and  hurried from the room,
muttering. Nela looked  to her colleagues. They were  already packing up. “Well?” she said.
Ashoke looked  at her. We have seen enough. We must  deliberate. We will let you know of our findings.” Nela stuffed down the urge  to slap him. She glanced at the group,  looked  them  all up and  down, and  found no one who would meet her eyes.  There would be no quick pats on the back, no meeting at the pub to commiserate with  a maligned colleague. No griping about the changing face of the student body,  how they considered themselves customers now,  always right,  the ones holding all the cards  with  their  daddiestuition money.
The peers filed out of the room silently,  heads bowed, shuffling their  feet. Why not? They were  on a slippery slope.  Any one of them  could  be next.
Nela waited for Ashoke to get his books and  papers together. He said nothing, barely  nodded to her as he went  out the door. It closed with  a thud, and  Nela winced as if the sound was much  louder. She tracked his muffled footsteps  retreating down the corridor. When  she could  no longer hear them, she gasped. She had been holding her breath.
Inter-departmental complaints were  supposed to be confidential, but Nela knew  from experience that nothing was leak-proof. The students already knew  about the scandal, she realized. It was why,  earlier  in class, no student would meet her eye. And when she passed out papers, a few of her charges cringed theatrically.
During her own  schooldays, she had  been at the mercy  of a number of teachers armed with  rulers, and  the freedom to wield  them  as they saw fit. Not the good old days,  exactly, but a more  obvious system than this, a rumor mill grinding away,  fed with  innuendo, secret meetings in closed rooms, recommendations handed down based  on public pressure.
For the next week, Nela tallied  up the mounting prejudice against her.  She made it a point to walk briskly through the halls, greeting the people she had  always greeted, pretending not to register it when they cut her dead.
There was no need for legal advice,  Ashoke told her, when they accidentally collided in the corridor. The student had not accused her of physical abuse,  wrist-grab notwithstanding. Only harassment.
She wants an apology, and  also to take the test again,” Ashoke said. Why should I agree?”  Nela retorted. She was cheating. She should be expelled, not negotiated with.
Ashoke, with  a pained expression, put a hand over one ear. “We are all friends here, isnt it. There is no need to shout.
Nela was not aware that she was shouting. In fact, she was sure that she had not. What was Ashoke up to? She reached back into their childhoods for something that would explain his actions.   He had  always been possessive of her, but now he seemed intent on making it hard for her to stay on here.  What could  he gain by sacrificing her now?
Do you know Hamiltons Rule?” she asked in a voice so cunning and soft Ashoke had  to bend  down to scoop up the words. He shook his head. Jackson  was telling me about it in bed one night.” Ashoke colored up, his forehead instantly dampening. Nela idly wondered at what temperature his hair oil would begin  to melt.   She took a piece of chalk in hand and scrawled a formula on the board. She quoted, “Put  into words, the relatedness of the individual that profits from the altruistic act of the focal individual must  be higher than  the cost/benefit ratio this act imposes.
Ashoke looked  annoyed, the way he always did when an unfamiliar concept was introduced to him. Thinking seemed to make  his head  hurt. Its a handy explanation of how related a person must  be to you for you to bother to save them.  Altruistic vs. selfish genes.” Nela began  to sketch  a scene of a man  at a lake. If this man  has a choice, according to the principle, who will he save? The two brothers, or four nephews, or these eight cousins? She drew one of the cousins with  a halo of frizz and  dressed in a sari. “How many less-close  relatives are worth one sibling?  Blood is blood, you always say. Family is everything, etc. etc. It is not really true  with  you, though, is it?
They looked  at one another, leaning away  from the barrier  between them.  Ashokes expression sealed  over. His eyes clouded, and  Nela saw that he was giving  her up. The only question remaining was how  to make  his triumph hurt him, if that was possible. She smiled with  as much  bravado as she could  muster, and  slouched against the table in a way meant to provoke him, but did not, for once. She had her answer.
We will hear you tomorrow at nine.

At ten minutes after nine, Nela entered the room. After she had  settled herself  in her chair, she narrowed her eyes to hard black hash  marks for the benefit  of each member of the committee.
Along  with  the professors, two more  students were in attendance. Ashoke mumbled their names to the assembled company, his voice drowned out by the noisy scraping of Nelas chair. “I trust you have no objections to the presence of these representatives from the Student Rights Association?” he said.
Nela shrugged and examined her nails.  Suddenly, she raised her head and  stared at the students. A circus, is it?” The students widened their eyes, and one of the girls’ faces crinkling up as if to cry. Ashoke frowned, and  flung his arms  at his sides in an expression of exasperation Nela recognized from their  childhood.  He pursed his lips and  brought the meeting to order.
Ms. Jameson alleges that Dr. Sambashivan abused her during an exam on November 14. May we hear from Dr. Sambashivan what occurred on that day?
“Ive already told you. She was cheating and  I caught her.” “How do you know she was cheating?
She had written answers on her palm,  which  she tried  to rub off when she saw that I had caught her.
Did you see the writing on her palm?”
She had rubbed it off by the time I reached her seat.” So you looked  at her hand, and saw nothing?
Unless  you installed a secret camera in the room, it would be difficult to prove.
Nela crossed  her legs and resumed the inspection of her nails. They excused her before she had  a chance  to upend her chair or otherwise make a scene. She sauntered into the next room, nodding mocking goodbyes, but once the door was shut,  she began  to pace.
The committee  deliberated for all of five minutes. They called Nela back in the room, where they did not ask her to take her seat. She stood before them,  hands behind her back, as if she was shackled.
Ashoke, as the chair, delivered the committees recommendation to allow the girl to take the test over. Before Nela could  protest, he stridently told her that they had  also decided to call for a formal  apology, and strongly encouraged her to take classes on anger management.
Or perhaps an all expenses paid  trip to a spa! Nela countered. On your  nickles, isnt it?
At a certain point, when under duress, Nela became  an observer, with  no attachment to the outcome. Ashokes behavior was what interested her at the moment, how he could  do what he was doing to someone with  even one particle of his own  DNA. She thought back to a play in which  he had  acted  when he was eight years  old. He had  played Arjuna, anguished at the possibility that he would have to kill kinsmen and friends in battle.  She remembered the little boys squeaky protests to Lord Krishna, how  he begged to understand what was beyond him. But this was easy. He was an adult now. He had no excuse.
The committee  members whispered behind their hands, and  the two students behind theirs.  Ashoke bobbed his head  like a sewing machine at whatever they were  saying. At last he stood apart from the others, cleared his throat, and  suggested she take a leave of absence. Think of it as a sabbatical for rest and reflection. We know you have been under a lot of strain from taking care of your  mother,” he said piously. Nela laughed aloud. The great  goose! She walked out of the room and  left him simpering in mid-sentence, the colleagues with  their  mouths ajar.
That night,  at her cottage,  Nela overturned her basket  of mail. She sifted through all the envelopes on the floor and  began  to accept every invitation that would take her away  from there.