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Crackle and Plow

               for my beloved librarians, and for Stephen King

It’s a thick tome, nearly six-hundred pages,
hardcover, new enough still that the boards
haven’t bent or softened at the corners.
The protective film crackles each time
I open or close it, or shift in my chair
as I plow through the thing, and both of those verbs—
crackle and plow—take me chest-deep
into primal happiness. Crackle
takes me back to the treasure-houses
that were my first childhood libraries,
the shelves adazzle with the spines
of plastic-covered books I could choose
and bring home; the sober ritual
at the circulation desk; writing my name
on each date-stamped card drawn
from the manila paper slots
pasted to the books’ back covers;
then home with my hoard. Or just reading
in the library itself, where nobody would
ask why I was so quietask wasn’t I tired of reading
ask shouldn’t I go outside and get some fresh air?
and everything was pretty quiet except for that crackle,
or the whispers of turning pages.

Plow for the way some novels,
like this new Stephen King in my fat old lap
can still pull me through, breakneck, me reading
as if eating for the first time in a week or
as if the book were a bridge disintegrating
beneath my feet as I sprinted across it.
Glad to know it can still happen, this urgency,
this alien-abduction loss of an afternoon,
this utter transportation. Halfway through,
I notice an odd gap between pages
of the briefly closed book, so I flip forward
to pages I haven’t read yet to find
a single wooden toothpick, which might
gross me out but instead brings to mind
my father, dead several years now,
my father of the martini olives and dental work,
my father of the classic wooden toothpick
who very well could have, inadvertently,
lost one of his many in pages like these.

My father, who first got me going on Stephen King,
who was my Stephen King reading companion
through times when our differences
were outpacing our similarities;
when our tastes and values were diverging,
as they do, as they must. It’s him I think of today,
open to this splinter of a surprise—and, more,
I’m reawakening to the magic of circulation
the books moving like blood through a body,
passed like vital sustenance from hand to hand to hand,
all those good hands I take briefly in my own
in this pause before plowing forward again.

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