Wednesday Poem

Working the Stacks

Reach up for the light cord and tug through its little knot
of resistance, and there’s Samuel Johnson,
sharing the floor with Nietzche,
Anthony Trollope, Franz Fanon, Osbert and Edith Sitwell,
German small-print dictionaries,
black bound insurance tables,
histories of 1920 trolley companies that failed,
Even before you locate a book,
you can feel its weight
in your hands, the self-sufficiency
of 1870 geographies, the erotics
of steam engines. You’re pushing the whole language
ahead of you, leaning your shoulder
into the cart and, when that doesn’t work,
falling against it
till, just when you’re certain that it won’t budge,
it starts to roll as if it’s considered the prospects
of staying in the same spot forever
and decided, instead,
to revel in the fact that it has wheels,
Hitler rides the same cart up with Marcus Aurelius,
Big Bill Haywood, the Marquis de Sade,
and Salvador Dali. Of course
you talk to yourself, but it’s really more a hum,
the kind one keeps up
moving among bodies slumbering so deeply
they could be dead, music
that doesn’t require the mouth to be open,
as the mind sings to itself
day in and day out,
working alone,
on its way to words or on its way back.

Christopher Bursk
from The First Inhabitants of Arcadia
The University of Arkansas Press, 2006