The Stacks

I don’t recall how it began
I was asleep at the time
maybe long ago in a boy’s dream or some
half-remembered adventure
wandering again
through that vast and foreign city of childhood
that never once was the same
in so many days and dreams
maybe this time he’d lost someone
I don’t recall
Hearst Avenue or some such
boulevard    walking downward
a fenced park to his side    an iron gate
concrete path    neoclassic façade    the
pinkness of granite
the cherrywood doors    ajar
Stepping up    cold stone by stone
slipped with the night air    through the entryway
to the dark inside    a broad desk    a bronze reading lamp
too dim to penetrate the dense air and a woman
old white hair skin folded in ribbed shadows
in the green lamplight seated at the desk
stood and turned not seeing me    walked out from behind
the oak battlement    turned his way cocked her head to say
follow me patron and so he did    back to the stacks
the green lamplight remained    fading at our backs
her ancient wiry frame    hung a knee-length dress
black in the green light    vanished here and there
as she passed through the shadows of
the densely packed shelves
the knocking of her heels
echoed off the bindings and the floor
her bunned hair was black now in the dim light
the curve of her hips was complete
each leg in fullness but undressed
seeming to note my hesitation she turned back
she was young she was fruitful she
wore the old woman’s dress
but it embraced her now and her glasses had the same frames
but the glass was dark as the stacks    somehow I knew
I knew her from somewhere she stopped and turned and
she pulled a book off-shelf    handed it to him and
she leaned against the shelving and waited
I looked through the volume all the pages were naked
he looked up to her and showed her    two of the empty sheets
she turned away to the stack and reached up
lifting off her heels to her toes
dangerously drew out another volume
I could hardly make out the black silhouette of her face
her hair    her dress her calves in the crescent light
her bow-like length flush against the mass of bindings
she pulled the book down and I turned timidly as
she handed the book to him and
I handed the empty book back    only to find
the next book was empty    so
she led me down the slot canyon handing him
volume after volume of emptiness
sometimes the pages were fresh
white and glossy sometimes they were
yellowed and cracked with time and
the verdant librarian she led me
though the shadow to where the stacks ended at a wall
the shelves there empty    but for a single book
I could see this clearly    in the light of a naked bulb
that shone from high on the wall    I could see that
the librarian’s dress though black was not opaque
I could see her through it in the white light as she
handed him the lone book that he could not open
because of what I saw under the linen
some kind of writing
the script glowed dimly in the light in the black fabric
he reached for her collar and turned it out
there was writing
in some Latin form    there was another collar
under the collar    white and it too had writing and
he turned it over and I saw the deeper layers
and I licked his fingertips and he peeled back the sheets
back as the pages of her breast opened    a white rose
the petals turned silently    the words
incomprehensible and familiar
he dug through into her pages and I
listened to her breathing    clearly
and deeply
with every new page my hands tingle
to the touch of every silk petal
but the fingers begin to quake and stumble
and the pages slip out of their grasp
and the dreamer slips out of the dream
eyes fixed to the ceiling
we listen to the breathing

© 2013–14 Kaweah