Packing Daddy's Books
Packing Daddy’s Books
He never gave a book away. He hoarded
as only a child of the Depression could,
who, at twelve, on winter nights, had stood
before the shelf on which his mother stored
her Tennyson, her Browning and Defoe
beside the jars of succotash and greens.
His forefinger would tip back Ivanhoe,
careful not to disturb the peas, the beans.
He’d find a chair, hunch over his dreams.
In forty years of teaching he amassed
enough for a third world of starved minds.
Retired, he brought them all home. They lined
every shelf, then immigrated past
the living room and study to the closets,
the empty bedrooms of the grown children.
He’d reread one, or, thinking he’d lost it,
buy it again. We joked that they would spawn
and overpopulate, spill onto the lawn.
His legs failed. He paged through catalogues
and ordered by the score. Towers rose up,
whole civilizations on tables, chairs, a trunk,
the fireplace ledge. All day he’d scorn and slog
through page after page, penciling in the margins.
And, when his memory went, he underlined
each sentence, heavily, as if, to his mind,
every thought were enormously important,
every syllable a wall against disorder.
At the last, his books grew silent of him.
He might spend hours on a single paragraph.
I think he found some comfort in the form
of the characters lined up like a dark path
on which his eyes could march from left to right,
and make that turn and then go right again.
The simple look of it, the black on white,
and thicker white on all four sides, and then,
more blank and open white at chapter’s end.
At last, we boxed them up. We made no judgments.
Spy stories, physics, medieval romance,
Bible commentaries, a book on the Luddites,
the Klan, yoga, ninjas, modern dance
—all in cartons to settle their resentments
like Greeks and Trojans, merciless, no regrets
(Daddy out of the fray, sulking in his tent)
. . . or still as lovers in the tombs of the Capulets.