Camille T. Dungy
Maybe you sold it to buy junk. Though I like to think not.
And I don’t want to think you used the money for food
or rent or anything obligatory, practical.
A pair of boots, perhaps. Thigh high burgandy boots
with gold laces. Something crucial as lilies.
Mostly, I want to believe you held onto the book,
that your fingers brailed those pages’ inky veins
even in your final weeks. I want to believe
words can be that important in the end.
Who can help the heart, which is grand and full
of gestures? I had been on my way out.
He was rearranging his bookshelves
when, in an approximation of tenderness,
he handed me, like the last of the sweet potatoes
at Thanksgiving, like a thing he wanted
but was willing to share, the rediscovered book—
he’d bought it years ago in a used bookstore
in Chicago. Levine’s poems, with your signature inside.
That whole year I spent loving him, something splendid
as lemons, sour and bright and leading my tongue
toward new language, was on the shelf. These
weren’t your own poems, autographed, a stranger’s
souvenir—we’d spent vain months leafing through
New York stacks for your out-of-print collections—but you’d cared
about this book, or cared enough to claim it, your name
looped across the title page as if to say, Please.
This is mine, This book is mine. Though you sold it.
Or someone else did when you died.
We make habits out of words. I grew accustomed
to his, the way they spooned me into sleep
so many times. Now I am sleepless and alone
another night. What would you give for one more night
alone? No booze. No drugs. Just that hunger
and those words. He gave me The Names of the Lost.
Need comes down hard on a body. What else
was sold? What else—do you know?—did we lose