The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®

 

Kirk Swearingen

The Patient Books

                for Phyllis Rodgers


                Where are the books he collected, the books he could identify at a glance in the midst of the
                    labyrinths of chaotic, dusty shelves, as I could on the shelves of the Alabasters' shop and in
                    all those other booksellers in Oxford and London?....They had probably returned to that
                    world where all or at least the vast majority of books return, to the patient, silent world of
                    second-hand books, which they leave only temporarily.
                                                                                                   —Javier Marías,
All Souls

 

The reference books arrayed above this desk
patiently await their consultations—
books of quotation (classical or not);
various specialized dictionaries,
from the biographical to the rhyming;
encyclopaedias (the U.K. spelling
makes me think more can be fit in the thing—
stretching out the enterprise, as it were),
comprising the well-written researched fact
and the sweet, enduring hope that knowledge
can indeed be captured between two covers;
some guides on words, all of them second-hand,
naturally being a bit worse for wear,
having been man- (and woman-)handled
(The Complete Word Hunter not so complete,
apparently, and thus thesauri abound);
grammar and stylebooks with their broken spines—
there's Strunk and White, the ubiquitous one,
"the little book" from 1919, revised,
thin and handsome in hardback, erudite,
a touch irascible, but commanding;
and, from my years as a copy editor,
The Associated Press Stylebook,
Theodore M. Bernstein's Careful Writer,
and Fowler's witty Modern English Usage;
moreover, essays on writing, and life:
Brenda Ueland's If You Want to Write,
Anne Lamott's sagacious bird by bird,
to make note of two, which is not to mention
the art guides also above my head,
and the collection of Shakespeare, my mother's,
the handsome Yale editions, blue and gilt.
And if I walk into my living room,
Dickens and Poe, among others, are there,
discussing international copyright
or lounging, smoking, at their ease, waiting
for me to return to their fearless flights.
(I sometimes dream that I would trade the business
of this life to glean the things they had learned.)
All these books are there, waiting patiently,
but these books, these rows within easy reach,
the reference books, with no stories to tell,
books about facts, about choosing your words
(books on words—what could be better that that?),
are the ones, it seems, with the most patience.
And as they are books, physical entities,
not switched on but looming celestially,
each has its own minute gravitational
pull, to which I'm irresistibly drawn.

 

Kirk Swearingen

An Impious Metaphor

 

Take an ember of religious fervency
and, with care and coaxing, puff it to life
beneath a carefully constructed pile
of political slights and grievances,
and watch, with satisfaction, the flames mount.

 

 

 

KIRK SWEARINGEN's poems have been published in The Edge City Review, MARGIE (two volumes), and Delmar (two volumes). Over the years, a number of his poems have received honors in the annual Wednesday Club competition.

 

 

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