O pilgrim, the way it smelled—leather,
embossed with gilt, and ink-fresh
newspapers draped over dowels. I remember
the little cards, threaded on metal rods
inside the maple world of a thousand drawers.
The lemon-pledged desk. Spinnable
date stamps. Ruffles, from the elbows, down,
disguising the reedy arms
of Miss Josephine Machus, with her pale,
electrified hair and pop-bottle lenses,
guardian angel of Dickens and Dante,
Austen and Alcott and Audubon.
She patrolled sunlit rooms grown weighty
with all the waiting thoughts of the dead.
How faithful, her measured step.
Church-quiet, the carpet enfolded
the rare, murmured word. Holy, almost.
After stamping my card, Miss M
closed the book’s cover the way
some tuck a weary child into bed, the window
open to April rain. Come winters,
she traveled the world with my zany aunt.
Talk about a couple of lulus. Then home,
again, to the pencil that partially skewered
her French twist. Who wouldn’t want
to be first up those worn-down steps, rising
between the stony black griffins? Back then,
not really knowing what was good,
I chose an armload of Nancy Drew.
Now the mysteries choose us.
Cover image by Sylvia Yang.