Packing Daddy's Books

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Jeanne Emmons

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.