are sad places, where the dead wait to be loved.
A teenager in the poetry section
sits on a red milk carton,
her black lipstick like an opera,
pulling one book down after another
in a frenzy of polite quiet.
(What is she searching for?
You know what she is searching for.
It has no name.)
You walk past her, but there is no escape.
The philosophy books in their worn jackets
plead for phenomenology, and the collected works
of Freud, missing a few volumes, like teeth,
cry out for therapeutic intervention.
Certainly the eighth volume of that festschrift
of this particular professor of anthropology
who peers from his headshot like a distinguished scrawny owl,
will solve what needs to be solved, culturally.
Let me stay here awhile, with the mold and dust,
the bathroom not open for the customers,
the postcards pinned to the sides of the shelves,
and the bowed shelves themselves,
sagging under a weight of suffering.
Let me move across the threadbare maroon carpet,
to the desk with the lone caretaker
with acned beard, glasses and low turquoise hat,
who could probably sing
bibliographies of ocean studies.
Have a cough? A spell? An addiction? A desire?
Old bookstores don’t mind. They like us like that,
ugly and human and looking for clues.
They don’t mind anything. They’ve seen and known enough,
thank you very much, calling to us effortlessly
like cantankerous sirens,
smelly lovable ghosts, unhinged captains
of an adventure of memory in desuetude.
The rain falls outside, darkening the concrete,
making a sound like something immemorial,
a father sitting at a dinner table eating, a child falling asleep.
And a voice appears, arriving across a great distance
like an echo made flesh. The world of the mind
in the world of the poem, the world of the poem
in the world of the mind, like a private ghost turning on a faucet.
Now the season begins its moving.
Now the air shifts, from summer to autumn,
like a lion who can’t die. We walk among the leaves
and find our lives again, then lose them,
like quarters in the pockets of the fathers,
like candy in the purses of the grandmothers.
The world continues on its irretrievable way,
and when we die it doesn’t bat an eyelash.
Do you remember in summer when your mother would lean down
to hand you a cold drink from the red and white cooler,
outside the cabin, in the shady part of camp?
She was as beautiful as the pine trees, giving shade and sap.
She sat there, reading a novel, on the cool and sap-smelling side of camp,
and when I approached she reached into the sloshing melted ice cubes
and handed me a cold drink. She looked at me, and I felt assured,
and ran across the ogre-haunted bridge to the lake.
I looked at my father last night, in the changing light of the kitchen,
as he cut into a potato. His socks were worn high, as they always are,
and his hair was mostly black and parted.
He looked out the window, as if about to say something,
then turned back to his food and continued eating.
Stephen, can you tell me why the rain falls down immemorial,
the fathers cut their potatoes with knives,
the mothers lean down to give their children a cold drink,
and all the people are dying who remember us?
He cut into his potato, while throughout the room
the light touched every leaf of the basil plant, purple orchid and philodendron.
Dusk was falling, and suddenly outside the window I saw a deer,
its skin reddish-brown, moving among the pine trees.
It was silent, and I winced from the perplexity —
the immemorial rain, the deer among the pine trees,
my mother’s hand reaching out
in the cool shade of the sap-smelling side of camp,
my father gripping the knife.
We were alive together in the room of the poem,
in the dignity of the failing summer light.
We were alone together in the poem of the world,
where the rain falls down immemorial.
We were dying together in the poem of the world,
like a process, tearless, which solicits tears,
like a harvest without fruits
that brings an abundance of fruit.
What do we remember?
Experience, and the aftertaste;
St. Paul in the shocked grandeur
of his golden opening,
the taste of salt in his mouth;
maybe a hunger afterwards;
cold silence, an injured wrist as he stood
and looked down the road at dusk.
He recalled it until his recall
became a story in his mind,
a body folding slowly over time
into shape; he gave birth
to stories we tell ourselves, that go
this way and that, touching
certain arteries of our fondness,
and we return to them for angles,
subversive trysts, to remind us of something
we know we have lost, of someone
we wished to become, and perhaps
for a few moments, did. The blood
of who we’ve been and are
stands in the gutters where we’ve left,
until its rubbed out by the rain;
and what we’ve been and are is a standing question
stained by history, the history
that lives in us, who we seem, an answer
we strive for an arrival at,
a spoor, causing mostly a dumbstruckness
accentuated by empty rooms
and intuited at desks we sit at by ourselves
on summer nights. Cough
and the blood moves again
and you can find the sky limitless: but try to remember
how it began, and where, and the bafflement
is indecent: we begin, but must stop; we have only stories;
the question of beginnings vibrates, but that’s all;
moan or celebrate, our origin tales
plead the assuring myth of experience,
but something is missing, perhaps it’s under that rock,
and the wreck itself, what we leave for another leaving,
is only a trace too, too broken to be recalled.