Poem

Books on the Counter

I heard you were coming for a visit,
and as if stepping over a snail in the garden
I set some books out on the counter.
The Satanic Verses
you’ve never heard of it—
but isn’t the cover splendid?
Mr. Rushdie’s royal name shimmers
like a gecko’s skin, the S in Salman
ready to scurry beneath the pebbles.
Finnegans Wake.
Joyce looks at you with Mesozoic eyes.
Did you know you are made of quarks?
Un ménage à trois pour Monsieur Mark
probably not saucy enough to get you through Joyce’s babble.
Speaking of threes, or rather unholy threes,
I’ve summoned a conventicle of
Paz, Kinnell, and Bukowski—
but you may only pick one! I’m eager to hear
whether or not you leafed through them
as you chatted about salad dressings with my friend—
acidity and dead-eyed anchovies—
whatever helps a shallot
taste like a summer boy’s kiss
rather than death. Proust!
I also left a volume of Proust—
a cure, exquisite cure, exhausting cure.
But you won’t glance; you have no need to pry,
to peer, to interrupt your dull vast
by meddling in my threadbare life;
no illicit urge to face the eidolons
of their tortured souls, only to face your own.
I would excavate your bookshelves—
I would lurk in every margin
for scribbles, for criticisms, for intimacies—
be rapt in every dogeared page, in every highlight—
I would glean every scrap of your soul
as organized by genre, by author, by—
wait, what if you only own a single book?
A coffee table one with glossy photos
of empty beachside homes, askew-nonchalant,
the ocean, as seen through a large panoramic window,
a pop of color on the ceramic surface.
What if that’s all you left for me?