poetry quarterly

10th anniversary

POETS IN FEDERAL GOVERNMENT ISSUE

Patricia Gray

 

FINGERING THE PAST

In the Library’s rare book room, when
the lost book of hours opens, a crimson
daub flecks the recto. Painted goldfish and
bees crack apart, sending slivers of color
to the book’s gutter.

......................................How quickly they
sift away–chips of paint from a medieval
book once held to the breast of a noblewoman
pausing for private devotionals, her fingers
tracing daisies and toads and the feathered
backbones of angels.

......................................The monk who
adorned these pages must have sat with his
mixing pot and goose quills, brilliant lazuli,
shaved gold—the tools he daily used–his careful
work building a kind of trust between his time
and ours.

......................................But when the codex
is closed and we leave at day’s end, book rust
on our hands despite cotton gloves, sun catches
the railing and shoots blanks toward us. Even
the steering wheel seems a hot reproach as we
rip away, scattering debris.

What damage we sometimes do!
Tomorrow, the book will be sent
for preservation, as if newly ground lapis
could match layered blue or serve again
to cure melancholy, as it was once said to do.

 

 

 

Patricia Gray worked for the Federal government from 1984-2010. She began as a writer-editor at the Library of Congress's National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped and moved on to be head of the Poetry and Literature Center at the Library. She is the author of a chapbook from E Street Press and a collection, Rupture, from Red Hen. She has received artist fellowships from DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, served as a judge for the national Poetry Out Loud competition, and taught at The Writer's Center.

 

Published in Volume 13, Number 3, Summer 2012.


To read more by this author:
Patricia Gray: Whitman Issue
Patricia Gray
Patricia Gray: DC Places Issue