A story about being afraid to write poetry.
So far, today is the only day during my tenure at this library that I have had the privilege of taking all thirty-three steps up the ladder to reach the second shelf from the top. A patron returned to us a large, leather-bound collection, if I recall correctly, detailing some correspondence between the Commonwealth and Spanish merchants.
Further up the rows of shelves, and our collection grows older and older. Being a cartographer, educated as an artist only briefly in my youth, I am only now-and-then inclined to venture up the fifth and sixth rows to indulge in the life’s work of men some two or three times my age.
The tarnished leather-bound book reminds me of the four months I spent in the care of the keeper of the lighthouse at Peristeres. Resting in-between a shelf and the northern-most wall of my quarters, I recall a small volume nearly-filled with a very unusual verse, penned in a heavy black ink.
It seemed to me, at the time, mostly filled with non-sense. A journal of foreign memories, or perhaps of fictitious imageries. Of course, in time my own recollection of the book has become like that humid Mediterranean summer, yellowing the pages, and smudging the ink. Had it not been for the verses at the end, that August might have been too hazy to recount. I have committed them to memory since that day. Of the last pages, the first read:
Our eyes are aglow in a chasmic doubt.
Each night we are suspended like snowflakes
drifting, effortless, in and out of love.
I think, fetching water from the well.
I sleep, and an oneiric moon shimmers in the pail.
I imagine a traveler, or perhaps an image of sailors seeking refuge in the company of the lighthouse, and bearing that heavy weight only distant lovers are condemned to suffer. Had I been in the same condition as the author, perhaps I too might have felt compelled to ease my feelings into the face of such a book.
In thinking of the second-to-last page, my feelings and memory of those words return to me with the same kind of ease. In time, I have come to recognize it as an elaboration on the previous. As I recall, it was written:
The passersby partook in the strange fascination
with the two in a motion; the voices scattered
of hushes, and mutters, and murmurs.
Footsteps syncopated, hand-in-hand, in form-less time.
Becoming one, eye-to-eye, in-form an edge-less space.
That which could not be said
would not have been danced
if it could have been said.
Ah! -- a beautiful picture, and in elegant reflection on such promises to his beloved. To be re-united after years at sea, and to have words that one cannot simply speak! Yes, dear author, I understand what you mean here by "compromise!" -- love as a dance of give-and-take!
And of course, I remember the last page of that book: it was decorated with a work yet-unwritten. When I think back to those days, I regret departing that island with the pages tucked into my case. I imagine another pair of travelers eyes might have fallen upon it, and then felt inclined to provide it a more comfortable resting place than I did -- perhaps in some old library like ours. And so, in being mischevious for the sake of being mischevious, I stole it before returning to Palaiokastritsa.
Upon my return, I heard the request of a man who desired a painting of the old castle on the hill. At sunrise I awoke and went with my materials. The bachelor and his bride-to-be were pleased with the work, and that evening they took me to walk about the ruins of the castle in their company. For a moment, when I found myself free from the presence of the couple, I approached the ragged cliffs and dropped the old book into the foam and waves.
The next morning, I had been invited by the man to meet with his family, and to personally deliver the painting at their estate. They left me a rectangular, beautifully-gilt frame for the work, to hang beside the staircase on the northern-most wall. Before I took to meet the couple, I took my pen to the back of the work and signed it:
It had been said that there lay
twenty-seven gods beneath the waterfall.
They begged us to collect an idol;
to pull up fine white sand from
the riverbeds of time immemorial.
We took up the stones in good faith;
to swim with each other in the nunc-stans.
I carved signs in the wall to promise her:
to never die, and to never ask of her
to equate all thought with laminar flow.