Poster for Jean Paul Gaultier show seen on side of bus in San Francisco

Friday night I drew a few cards to help me determine whether I should attend a poetry reading at a bookstore downtown or do some Kirtan (Hindu devotional chanting) at a local yoga studio. My cards for an evening of Kirtan promised frustration and thwarted intention.

The single card I drew for poetry? “The Devil.”

I went downtown with an open mind. The Devil card made me alert to the possibility that I could be confronted by inner demons – or even succumb to them – but also that I could be made aware of a part of myself – a desire, an addiction, or a fear – that had long hidden in my shadow and needed to see the light of day.

So what did I find when I arrived at the bookstore?

Lots and lots of books.

But not just any books.

Everywhere I turned, a name from my adolescence jumped out at me, grabbing my attention and jolting my heart. From the moment I entered, I was confronted by memories not only of loving books,  but of loving men (my dad, my boyfriends) who loved books.

On one table sat a work by science fiction prophet Philip K. Dick and on another, the drunken and hilarious Charles Bukowski. There was Czech romantic/cynic Milan Kundera  and Irish playwright Samuel Beckett, the monk Thomas Merton  and the meditation teacher Joseph Levine.  And amidst this international boys club? A sole woman – African-American novelist, Zora Neale Hurston.

In the store’s window a book stood with the simple title: Russian Poetry.  Surely this was a shout-out to my first boyfriend, a Russian poet who shares a birthday with Leo Tolstoy.

All these men, and one woman, inspired me and the men I loved because of their voice – voices of madness, mysticism, drunkenness, absurdity, romance and passion.

What the devil?

Almost a week later, I can only speculate that what has been hiding in the shadows of my adulthood – and particularly my life as a wife and mother – has been a voice: possibly mad, certainly mystic, but also absurd, romantic, passionate and perhaps not often enough drunk.

In tarot, The Devil can represent repression but it can just as easily represent freedom from the chains that imprison us. I am choosing the latter.