When we were little my sisters and I used to press leaves and flowers between the tissuey pages of our big dictionary and then forget about them. They could still be in there, for all I know, wherever that big gray dictionary is now. Once in a while, inching along the rows of a used bookstore, I come across my own books on the M shelves. Sometimes I slide one out to read the dedication and the acknowledgments. They are reminders of where I was at that point in life. Most of the people I loved then I still love, although a few have fallen away or crossed over to that other world. Some of those books contain an inscription written at the request of a patient person who waited in line, book in hand, so that it could be personalized for them: To Cornelia on her birthday, with many happy returns, Alison. Once in a while I do recognize a name, or a nickname —To the one and only Booberry, with tons of love. My handwriting looks different in that case, lively and familiar and happy, if handwriting can look happy. Who knows how the book ended up here on this shelf, the hands it must have passed through.
The First Owner of This Book Says Its Story, by Lex Runciman
Smaller than an opened hand this little book —
war over, paper yet rare and dear.
The important word here, over — turn the page.
But how, when your child learned to walk
hand to stranger’s hand in the Piccadilly Tube shelter –
sleep-fractured nights, a small girl’s uneven
balance and stagger, each step kindness, distraction,
panic, dread. Deaths and Entrances, 1946,
acid pages foxing and foxed, that girl’s prayers
by some trick older and her father returned
— no longer those fears he or she or I might be dead.
I read in memory of, in praise of.
In thanksgiving for, I keep and read this little book.
And one night between “Holy Spring”
and “Fern Hill,” I place a curved inch
of that girl’s cut hair, that I might forget
and then all Gabriel and radiant find
my child of apple towns, not war —
not dark, but windfall light.
For more information on Lex Runciman, please click here.