shelves start out with Ai, move on to the coral
of Miss Bishop. In my new home, in a new city, I rip
next carton and stop. I have somehow misplaced
Merwin before Mr. Merrill, which has to be fixed.
again at Scribner's, a bastion—with its Beaux Arts bookstore,
with curly cast iron and gilt—at this site on Fifth since
edged out hoofbeats on the avenue. I had just been
from editorial assistant to associate editor. The rooms
the relics of their ghosts: a bust of Hemingway,
lectern of Max Perkins—who elected to stand, as if addressing
authors, to edit. The wood-walled library featured fringed
reception, a scuffed and tack-studded tobacco-brown
couch. Young Charlie, newly ensconced in the coveted
Perkins office, brought in a piano, serenaded Scottie
as my colleagues and I rolled our eyes, pretended to work.
Atheneum arrived, a doomed move to keep the two companies
On weeknights I raced off to readings, attempted to write,
through my textbooks—stacks of jacketed works by Atheneum
the pedestaled Justice, Levine, Merrill, Merwin, and Strand.
Now, two and some decades later, I have divorced New York.
My soul mate, it understands and forgives me. We are on
Friendly terms. I did not get to cart off the Metropolitan Museum
When I left, or the halting schools of yellow cabs, or the window
Booth at the local diner, or the all-night neon of 86th
But I did get to take the books, to keep their voices,
I have Mr. Merrill, diminutive, regal at the podium,
Wry, regaling the audience—gasping with laughter—with a
Of an uncapped lipstick and a randy, panting Labrador, 1935.
I have Mr. Merwin, rumpled, just in from Hawaii, surrounded
By five writers summoned to a table at the 92nd Street Y,
Focused on his eyes, a crystal blue like captured starlight,
On the crux of his message, the sound and essence of his
"We don't write poems," he maintained. "We
listen for them."
The cloud banks of blossoms—the sudden eruption
Off three thousand century-old trees—surround us at
Their hint of pink the pigment of plush toys and
Blankets for infant girls. As we stroll the pathway,
With this fluff, we just about sprout petals
Spring as a verb. It was here, in the midst of these
blooms, that you
Asked me a question that changed my life, presented a
Velveteen box that held up a hard, faceted stone. A
woman next to us
Crumpled, in tears. The couple of strangers we
To stop grinning while taking our pictures: our arms
Each other, eyes luminous, the backdrop of cherry blossoms
A sheer, lit scrim that fronts what's permanent. What withers, leaves,
Returns, and returns.
It was frothy. It
It was icy on the
pineapple juice, and the Appleton's.
We sipped one apiece
on the terrace overlooking
The peaked gazebo
cresting the dock, and the glinty
Turquoise waters of
our crescent beach, while a big-eyed
shimmering long-tailed hummingbird—
Hovered like a
miniature copter in front of a blood-red
Hibiscus. When we
rocked in the hammock,
The only sound we
could hear was the breeze
Fanning the palm
fronds. In the pool, on a pair of rafts,
As we closed our
eyes in the late-day sun, the whole of our
turquoise, hoisting us, floating us along.
We never drifted
far, tethered by the length of your arm,
Of mine, by the buoy
of our two hands joined.
And we knew we had
tasted the edge of something sweet.
The storm had bitten away the shoreline,
Leaving behind a whiskered nine-foot cliff,
And underneath it the hard-packed sand
Was littered with starfish. Jutting
Out of the cliff bottom, stripped
Free of its tomb at water's edge,
Was the back third of a tan
Metallic 1952 Buick, license lost.
No cars, aside from jeeps, were allowed
On the island. The ocean darted
Forward and back, inspecting its find.
This morning the splintering ribs
Of the hull of an eighteenth-century ship
Arose in the spongy crater of mud
At the site of the World Trade Center,
Twenty feet below street level. Artifacts
Are the accounts we leave behind.
We leave them buried beneath what is buried,
Much as we live in our beauty now.
We may expose only the husk of ourselves,
But embedded and patient in our subterranean
Core, removed from use for so long that most
Have become forgotten, are every memory,
Every gesture, every meandering
Thought. And that's just the library. Jammed
Into the great room—some wearing boots,
Some barefoot—our ancestors are dancing.
We can feel them in our bones.
They're stomping the floorboards.
Michele Wolf is the author of Immersion, selected
by Denise Duhamel for the Hilary Tham Capital Collection, published by The
Word Works. Her other books are Conversations During Sleep, winner
of the Anhinga Prize for Poetry, and the chapbook The Keeper of Light. Her
poems have appeared in Poetry,
The Hudson Review, Boulevard, North American Review, The Antioch Review, and elsewhere, including Poetry Daily and Verse
Daily. She teaches at The Writer's Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Her
website is http://michelewolf.com.