When the time came to tell the story,
he wrote it down in beautifully measured
cadences that touched lightly upon
all the old verities. He erased each line
as soon as it was perfected and then
proceeded to the space below it where
he composed another small perfection
to follow at its heels, loping behind
with the unhurried gait of a stray dog
so that in the ensuing months and years
he filled many hundreds of pages with
a most resonant and haunting emptiness
and had, at last, a manuscript stacked
like a chiseled white brick on the table.
It glowed softly in the light of dusk.
Before long it became the unspoken talk
of the town. When asked by the radio host
why he hadn’t simply used a single page,
writing each line in the space voided
by the erasure of the line before, he smiled
and said, Surely, my book is not a work
of history, a lineage of dead kings where
each generation consumes the previous
so that the present moment is no more
than a smeared blur of déjà vu and nothing
moves but that it spins. No, my book
is words fallen into a contemplative silence
because the ache and joy they once carried
was torn so roughly away by the invisible
hands of the wind.
I see, said the radio host,
then repeated the phrase, unaware of the ironies
she conjured by using those particular words.
Given this is radio, said the man, might
I ask your listeners to imagine clouds?
High clouds in an autumn sky, stalking
the sun in silence. They tear their hair
in the running wind. They move in slow
feathers. Clouds embody the eternal
whether. Even as we look at them, they
change their minds. If God could return
as a cloud, he might come as cumulus.
He would accumulate himself in cream
then topple down in thunderous nothings—
Well, that sounds good, interrupted the host,
but how do we know your book’s not just
a bunch of blank pages?
You don’t, he said.
And in the pause that followed, hundreds
of listeners phoned in to swear that they
had seen his face.
But what’s it matter, really?
A book’s not
meant to be read, after all. It’s meant to be
held in the hands and felt, hefted and cradled
close against one’s heart like a wounded child.
Copyright © Michael Bazzett
Used with the permission of the author
on behalf of Poetry Northwest.