I am eavesdropping as I browse the poetry collection. If anyone notices, I’m sure they’ll assume it’s book titles I’m scribbling into my warped pocked notebook, which is on brief, temporary work-release from the depths of my winter coat. I didn’t have heart trouble until I married you. Then I had heart trouble. I peak around the books: seated at a round table in the café, an elderly woman is lecturing her husband as a middle-aged man looks on, appearing to mediate.
I recall suddenly my last dream before waking, in which a yellow-billed cuckoo was being eyed by a great-horned owl. First I was on the ground looking up at the cuckoo, thinking raincrow, and then I was right with her on the branch looking farther up into the canopy at the owl, and feeling the cuckoo’s terror as the owl spread its wings menacingly.
Some new, small-press titles on consignment grab my eye. Backwoods Press, or something like that. I recognize the author from an anthology — he’s good. I read several poems, carry the book over to a table, sit down with it, read a couple more. The poor printing and mediocre design finally get the better of me. I carry the book back over and continue browsing. It occurs to me that the dream must’ve come from listening to several versions of the old Anglo-Irish folk song “The Cuckoo” the day before.
Look how shakey he is! His fingernails need cut and I can’t cut him. Last time I tried to cut his fingernails, he got cut. I tried to take him over here to get them cut, but he won’t go! He’s too damn stubborn. I pick books off the shelf that I know I’ve looked at before, on past visits, read one or two lines and put them back. I start feeling self-conscious about it, because now I’m taking notes.
Would I browse this way in a library, I wonder? No, I don’t think I would. In a library I tend to give books more of a chance. But in that case I’m only looking for temporary guests; here in the bookstore I’m looking for long-term companions. And it’s just common sense to be extra careful about that: so many minor irritations, if improperly indulged, can grow into pet peeves that require regular walks and the changing of litter boxes. One lapse of judgment and there you are four short decades later with heart trouble or shaky hands.
On the bookstore’s stereo, a rockin’ calypso version of “No More Monkeys Jumping On the Bed.” I find a book I like: Summer Lake: New and Selected Poems by David Huddle. It’s a good-looking paperback from Louisiana State University Press, and I know I’ve looked at it before without reading more than one or two lines. This time, I read six poems in their entirety and am hooked by the straight-forward narrative style and details of rural working-class life. The Ben Shahn painting on the cover, Blind Accordion Player, may or may not have been a factor. I tuck it under my arm and head for the counter. The notebook goes back into its burrow in my coat for six more weeks.