Scavengers Excerpt: Emily Dickinson and Earl Grey

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Drove home from a Long Beds show last night with friend and honorary band member Mary Cutrufello (who has a new album coming out very soon–stay tuned here), and (as will happen when your traveling partner got her bachelors degree from Yale and her PhD from innumerable Texas roadhouses) the conversation was welcome, invigorating, and worked the spectrum from the vexing social questions of the day down to low-end goofball tour stories. At one point we discussed Emily Dickinson and the role she plays in my next book, thus my choice for the excerpt below. Thanks for helping pass the miles, Mary. Enjoyed that.

P.S. The “Porky Pig” reference has to do with an antique piggy bank Maggie unearthed while scavenging.

PUBLISHER’S NOTE: Slated for official release on September 2, Mike’s latest book, The Scavengers, can be pre-ordered from indie bookstores and other vendors right here, right now (Books ordered direct from will be signed by Mike).

One day when I asked Ma to read Little House on the Prairie to me for probably the forty-seventh time, she reached deep into her pack and drew out a rectangular object wrapped in cloth, which she carefully unwrapped until I saw it was another book. On the cover was the silhouette of a lady’s head. Ma ran her finger along the spine, where I read the title: The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. Ma sat down, pulled me close, and murmured, “Now you’re going to learn why I love to read.”

It sounded like she meant it more as a wish and a hope than a command.

Emily Dickinson lived in the 1800s. There is a picture of her in the book, and she didn’t look like a big ball of fun, I can tell you that. She looked like someone stole her favorite pen and she was thinking it might be you. Ma told me once that Emily hardly ever came out of her room, and was all pale from never seeing the sun. Kinda weird, that’s for sure. And one of her poems was called “I Felt a Funeral in My Brain.” Like I said: weird. But Ma’s wish came true: I love when we read Emily together. Her poems—even the weird ones—do something to me. They’re short and some have strange punctuation, but sometimes they make me burn inside like each word is a spark. Sometimes I think it’s odd that words written by a woman as skinny and prim as Emily Dickinson would mean anything to a dirty-fingernailed roughneck girl like me, but they do.

I love to sit with my back against the Shelter Tree, my knees drawn up, and a mug of hot tea cradled in my palms while Ma reads Emily’s poems aloud. We make the tea from things like dried mint leaves and clover blossoms. It tastes okay, but I know Ma would rather be drinking Earl Grey tea. “Nothing goes with a good book like a visit with the Earl,” Ma told me once, clasping her hands together and closing her eyes with a dreamy smile. I had a tiny taste of Earl Grey tea once: when Dad dug up that old toy truck, Dad had Toad use some of the BarterBucks to buy a single packet of Earl Grey from the Mercantile. For all Ma had ever said about how wonderful that tea was supposed to be, I didn’t really like it. It’s got something called bergamot in it, which sounds funny, plus the smell makes me think of old ladies. But Ma says that tea reminds her of thick rugs, marble floors, hushed rooms, cushiony chairs, stacks and stacks of books, and all the quiet time in the world to read them. I guess part of what I felt while holding Porky the Pig is what Ma feels when she sips Earl Grey tea. It takes her to another time.

For more excerpts including the Introduction and Chapter One, please click here.

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