For me alone the book had been waiting untouched on its shelf since 1976. Forty-one years. The last time anyone checked it out—a certain Cheryl Mason—was in March of that year, the 19th to be exact. (Ah, to be as exact again as a day in ‘76!) Here was Miss Mason’s faded blue name on a card in the book’s back pocket.
I turn a page, read a few passages from the book, and tumble unexpectedly into love. A man is lonely; he walks around Paris all the way to page 63, where I blink, turn to the card again, and touch the neatly scripted one nine seven six beside Cheryl’s name. I wonder if she too lingered upon page 63 or at least felt a smile arise unbidden after its last paragraph’s perfect black period.
I put my nose deep in the book’s musk, its ivory pages with brown edges. Certainly the neighboring books on the shelf had tried but failed first to embrace and then to smother what ticks between the copyright page and dear Miss Mason’s “return by” date. I read and feel her eyelashes flutter. Maybe Cheryl had been a girl when she entered this book, but no doubt by April, a mature young woman walked the book uphill to return it to eternity.
Halfway through, I go backward in time and forward in space, feeling my way across the inky black ridges. My pencil tries not to but can’t help but put an asterisk on page 209 by that bit about the wee doves. Oh, oh, just…here. Dearest Mister Beckett! I drift asleep with you, my cheek upon page 222. Perhaps after the book resumes its crotchety life alone, my black asterisk will wink once to the very cursive Miss Cheryl. Or such is my brief thought on page 282, where I linger in the sudden icy chill of a swift breeze of words wildly blowing open the blah beige drapes.
Nance Van Winckel is the author of nine poetry collections, the newest of which is The Many Beds of Martha Washington (Lynx House Press, forthcoming 2021), and five books of fiction, including Ever Yrs, a novel in the form of a scrapbook (Twisted Road Publications, 2014), and Boneland: Linked Stories (University of Oklahoma Press, 2013). She teaches in Vermont College’s MFA in Writing Program and is visual poetry editor of Poetry Northwest. Her writing has appeared in the Pushcart Prize anthology, The Southern Review, AGNI, Poetry Northwest, The Kenyon Review, FIELD, The American Poetry Review, and elsewhere. The recipient of two NEA poetry fellowships, the Washington State Book Award, the Paterson Fiction Prize, the Poetry Society of America’s Gordon Barber Poetry Award, a Christopher Isherwood Fellowship, and three Pushcart Prizes, she lives in Spokane, Washington. (updated 04/2021)