Useful friction,
slender leaf among leaves,
I divide the seen from the unseen
like some haphazard stand-in for the present.

Though I may bear an epigraph,
my true purpose is to stand watch over silence
like a caesura, or a rest in a score.
I’m a solitary scarecrow buried up to its neck
in a field of white, warding off
the crows of forgetfulness,
which are also (of course) white
as a blank page.

I mark where the mind left off,
where the lips ceased their murmur,
where the eyes fell shut.
My exact form is incidental, so long
as I am flat as the tongue of an angel,
for whom all flavors are one, & sturdy
as the hope of continuance.

We meet often, you and I,
but only under the covers.
You use me & set me aside.
In a previous life, I may have been
a paperclip, a shopping list, a postcard,
the receipt from a cash register —
some briefly useful crutch.
Riddle me.


See also Penn’s Creek Riddles and The World of the Riddle.

23 Replies to “Riddle”

  1. Oh, oh, oh, I missed the best ones, new found. The clear phoney credit cards sent as a come on. I throw the application away and keep the plastic. Have not killed one yet.

  2. Stop Gap

    An envelope, unused barrette
    Something close by that I can get
    My hands on without getting up
    A paper napkin, spoon from cup
    A pencil, pen or ruler near
    A screw cap from a bottled beer
    Unopened letter, (maybe bill)
    Just anything will do to fill
    The place where I left off in book
    So when I take another look
    I won’t repeat the story line
    A book marker would be divine
    But mine migrate to different clime
    They stow away in library books
    Or hide in cracks or bookshelf nooks
    Alas, if nothing’s here at hand
    I’ll join that sad subversive band
    Who finally have to come around
    To folding a page corner down.

  3. Let’s see,

    I’ve used grass stems, sycamore seeds, jay feathers, and japanese maple leaves…

    Camping, I’ve used the dessicated bodies of insects caught earlier in the closed book, flat pebbles, and sand dollars…

    In Anchorage airport, waiting, I used a ketchup packet…

    At one dentist, a tongue depressor…

    One sultry, impatient Boston afternoon, a condom packet…

    And even, returning home from getting paid in cash, an envelope containing Â¥120,000 (about $1,200.00)…

    But the best? The best was a lock of a lover’s hair while she was sleeping and I had to get up for a few moments. Not guaranteed to keep its place, but I would never lose it so long as we remained true…

  4. Joan and butuki – I love waking up to comments like these. It feels like Christmas! I’m gratified that my post shook loose such lyrical reactions, which, together with the other comments so far, give me a real sense of the limitations in my own conception.

    (For those who don’t know, Joan is a Missouri-based master [mistress?] of light verse whose usual venue is the comments for Larry Ayer’s blog Riverside Rambles.)

  5. Aha! Now my daughters, who work in a library, may be able to identify the the odd things they have had to remove from returned books, some of which left them amused or quite queasy.

  6. Today’s Via Neg shook some loose:
    An echo back of “yes!” on MB’s magazine blow-in cards (yep, they are called blow-ins by printers)
    Torn-open envelopes bereft of contents
    Dog-ears (I can hear other book-lovers say “fie” but I’ve done it)
    Grocery store receipts
    Other people’s business cards
    And, when camping, aspen and oak leaves


  7. I have lots of bookmarks, some bought in a moment of weakness in some foreign museum or other, others donated by bookshops in gratitude for my capitalist antics.

    The problem is that they’re always busy sleeping in other books– books I obviously intend to finish sometime, but who knows when– when I need them. And what’s good for dogs is good for bookmarks, so I say, and so I let them lie.

  8. Aha! But see, I’ve actually reached the point of admitting that I will never finish certain books, so I dispense with bookmarks more and more. For that matter, why start reading at the beginning? The good stuff is usually near the end.

  9. I used the word “obviously” ironically.

    Some of those bookmarked books have gathered so much dust that they are now hosting plant life. Even if I did pick up such a book again, I’d have so thoroughly forgotten what happened in the bit I allegedly already read that I’d have to start from the beginning again.

    To avoid that kind of acute discomfort, or the even worse one of admitting to myself that it ain’t ever gonna happen with this book, I prefer to leave the bookmarked book where it is, as it slowly discolors, all the while making false promises to the poor text about getting back together for a roll in the sack sometime.

Leave a Reply to butuki Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.