Obsession: Books, or, Poetry Finds Me

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In another life books framed my days. I slept with them, dreamt about them, woke to their presence stacked by the bed and in various corners throughout the house, read them, handled them, discussed their merits with friends, co-workers, beer-drinking buddies, bartenders, customers, strangers, relatives, and even enemies. Traced my fingers slowly down their spines, identified some by odor alone, others by weight and feel. Bought, sold, cleaned, lent, skimmed, traded, gave, borrowed, collected, repaired, preserved, received. Traveled to acquire more, returned home to find still others languishing in never-opened, partially read or barely touched states. There were always too many. There were never enough.

The relationship began innocently. I’ve been an avid reader since the age of five, and over the years developed a knack for uncovering uncommon modern first editions. I’d walk into a thrift shop and spot a copy of William Kennedy’s first novel, The Ink Truck, snuggling up to Jane Fonda’s workout book, for a buck. Or at a small town antique store, something especially nice, perhaps a near-fine first edition of Cormac McCarthy’s Outer Dark, would leer at me from a dark shelf – $1.50. John Berryman’s Poems (New Directions, 1942) found me at a garage sale, for a quarter. Good Will yielded Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. There were others, of course. Many others.

I partnered with a few like-minded friends and opened a store, and when that didn’t work out, started my own home-based book business, which eventually expanded into a small brick-and-mortar shop, a true labor of love. And I mean labor. The forlorn space we rented was cheap and had housed for years a low-end, illicit massage parlor. Cleaning it out was, oh, shall we say interesting? I’ll never forget the furry massage table, the naked lady lamp or the various implements left behind after the joint was finally forced to close. But we hauled out the filthy carpeting, stripped and refinished the hardwood floors, fixed, painted and patched what we could, and hid what we couldn’t. It was exhausting, but well worth the toil.

My work schedule ran from Monday through Sunday, a minimum of eighty hours a week – in a seven-year period, I took off only two long weekends. It consumed me, but in the end I emerged mostly intact, a little more aware of my proclivities, of an unhealthy tendency to immerse myself wholly into an enthusiasm, to the detriment of family and friends. When we sold our store’s wares, I embraced the change; some dreams simply deplete you. But the itch remained.

Just a few weeks ago I found myself perusing an accumulation of books in a storage facility across the street from a junk shop in Llano, Texas, a small county seat an hour’s drive west of my home on the outskirts of Austin. The shop’s owner had purchased an English professor’s estate, and judging by the collection, the professor had specialized in poetry. My first thought was “I want it all,” but reason set in (I could very well imagine my wife’s reaction were I to arrive home with a trailerful of books) so I glanced over the criticism, fiction, drama, essays and biographies, and concentrated on the poetry. In the end I walked away with thirty-one books, including H.D.’s Red Roses for Bronze (Chatto & Windus, 1931), Randall Jarrell’s Little Friend, Little Friend, Elizabeth Bishop’s Collected Poems and Questions of Travel, a brace of Berrymans – His Toy, His Dream, His Rest and Homage to Mistress Bradstreet – both the U.S. and U.K. first editions, which differ – and Love & Fame. A good haul, to say the least, but one that left me only partially satisfied and contemplating a return. But I remain resolute. So far.

As I said, the itch remains…

 

* * *

This first appeared here in April 2015, and yes, the itch is still there. Yesterday I walked into a wonderful bookshop (Black Dog Books) in Zionsville, Indiana, a few miles from my home in Indianapolis, and I felt instantly at home. Ah, the world of books! And yes, I returned home with a small stack of books.

 

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Scarecrow Dreams

 

Scarecrow Dreams

If by night I move without aid,
what then? Precious flesh, precious
bone, never mine to lose – the difference
between nothingness and no thing. A
pity that my friends fly at the merest
movement, but when the air’s breath
stills, they sing and rattle among the
grain, scribing their days in song
and footprints, seeking the available
on the ground. And what scrolls lower
than the sound of sunflowers turning?
The laughing daughter runs around
my lattice spine, scattering joy like so
many seeds, and when my hollow
fingers clench, the earth quivers, or
so it seems. Then midnight returns
and I disengage and stalk about,
scaring rodents and their predators,
hooting in harmony with the owls
reveling in the night air, remembering
the holy shirt, a yellow glove, corn
silk’s gleam at noon and the warmth
of your fingers against my burlap skin.
I do not breathe, I say, but I exist. By
morning what joins me but the tune
of yet another bird, unseen, melodious,
the pulse of morning’s dew. Eternity.
How my straw tongue longs to sip it.

 

“Scarecrow Dreams” first appeared in the summer 2017 edition of Eclectica. Many thanks to poetry editor Jen Finstrom, for publishing several of my scarecrow poems.

Boxcar

boxcars

 

Boxcar

Whose voice lingers
among the gathered stones,

raised then lowered as if
to ensnare followers?

This is not the issue.
Nor should we speak of paper

shuddering in the wind
and the dense glare of shovels

in the night underfoot.
Pray that the road continues

beyond the next curve
or increment of time.

Trust in motion,
the reticence of trees.

 

paper leaf

“Boxcars” first appeared here in November 2015. It had been moldering in a folder for three decades when I uncovered it. I have no idea what originally sparked it.

A Cheese Omelet at Midnight

cracking eggs

 

A Cheese Omelet at Midnight

You can’t ever leave without saying something,
no matter how insipid. That sweater looks good
on you. It’s supposed to rain tomorrow. I’m sorry
I burned the omelet. Nasdaq has plunged 3% 

since last week. And I, in return, can’t let you go without
replying in equal measure. It matches your eyes. I love
to smell rain in August. That cheddar was delicious.
Maybe I’ll start a savings account. Next month.

So I wash dishes when you’re gone, wipe down the
counters, pour salt into the shaker, grab a book, join my
cat in bed. This tune’s been overplayed, the grooves’re
worn down. Maybe next time I’ll say what I mean,

tell you what I want: It would look better in a heap
on the floor. How about a shower here, tonight? Kiss
me and I’ll never think of it again. I don’t give a rat’s
ass about the stock exchange. Step away from that door!

I’ll make your lunch, butter your 7-grain toast, assemble
your IKEA furniture, balance your books, even dye
my hair pink, tattoo a pig on my thigh and drink light beer
in your honor, if you would agree to say what’s on your

mind. On second thought, don’t. Tell me, instead,
what I want to hear, but make it heart-felt. Truthful
and direct. Poached but earnest. Hard-boiled but tender.
I’ll cook your eggs. Invest in me. You’ll earn interest.

 

* * *

This originally appeared in August 2015, as the 25th offering in the Tupelo Press 30-30 fund raiser. Thank you, Pleasant Street, for sponsoring this.

 

Asparagus omelet MGD©

Epiphanies

Don't Say That jar, collecting coins for bad words

 

Epiphanies

What greater doubt
than if

preceding only,
or hope cascading through the withheld
unspoken phrase?

Or the conditional, as it slows to place
an obstacle in its very own
path. If only I could

I would deny its existence,
but the conjunctive

bears blame as well,
though nothing’s put before

the preposition (which one
would certainly never end with).

 

* * *

“Epiphanies” first appeared here in April 2015.

 

CUE 8

 

In the Key of Your Hour

blueguitar


In the Key of Your Hour 

The words I sing are draped in silence,
wedged between notes yet flowing forward.

Stop-time presents the illusion of interrupted tempo and meter.

Perception informs our spirits.

The old guitar hangs on the wall and seldom speaks,
preferring instead to lightly hum when the wind blows just so.

The conceit of two right hands. A slamming door.

Music enters my room by subterfuge, but exits boldly.

If simultaneity is relative, how do we assign primacy
to an overtone? One voice, one whole.

We must respond to our bodies. In kind, with trust.

I ask you to listen without considering the requisite commitment.

The broken circle represents common time replete with imperfections,
linking the measurable to the internal well.

Gather what comes, no matter the source.

Mark time and repeat: harmonics, the quivering string. Breath.

* * *

“In the Key of Your Hour” appeared here in September 2016, and is also in my chapbook-length work, The Circumference of Other, which is included in IDES: A Collection of Poetry Chapbooks, published by Silver Birch Press in 2015.

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Saltwater

 

Saltwater

What if you close your eyes
and your throat relinquishes

the morning’s bright
fingers, freed from bruises.

Suppose that particular night
never happened, the way

a wave crashing ashore
empties itself and trickles

back in separate communities,
mingling yet aloof, a

diminishing cortege. What
is the question? Take this

spoon. Fill it with saltwater.
Upend it into the pail. Observe.

 

“Saltwater” was first published in Nine Muses Poetry in May 2018.