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By Sheila Black

In the frozen square, the student asks me if I will

sell him the books from my backpack. He hides them

under his winter coat. Steam rises from the whole

wheat rolls we break open at the breakfast table.

We drink hot apple tea and pronounce the skyline

“charming.” In a jail a man counts the visible bones,

and recounts them in the blaze of morning. To turn

a self to light proves painful — each piece must

be dissected in turn; you pass through every feeling

imaginable, so many you might make a dictionary — 

dread to disgust, delight to degradation. The prisoner

remembers wanting only to read as if in a fever — 

running fingers over pyramids of words as if he might

translate himself from this life to a more vivid existence

in which he cuts open the pages with a knife in

plain sight of everyone like a man eating meat and

potatoes at the dinner table. Not that world; this one

where blue light and sharpened files, where identikit

and stamps on passports, where the book in his back-

pack is a crime, and I have sold him down the river

for ideas I barely value — the volumes flung carelessly

across my hotel room, while he picks mushrooms on

the edge of dread, pallid ghosts of what won’t speak

or be spoken. Or where I remember what it is to

be present in the world, and I turn away, unable to

bear it — so much light and dread, so much in the darkness

growing or simply how hard to ever remain in place.


Source: Poetry (March 2014)

Poet Bio

Sheila Black is the author of Wen Kroy (Dream Horse Press, 2014) and co-editor of Beauty is a Verb (Cinco Puntos Press, 2011).

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