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Page 151

In late December, 2003, a poet friend
(not quite an oxymoron; mutual respect
can hold envy at bay) -- a poet friend
gave me a gift: a hard-bound book,
black, that close-textured stuff we associate
with book-binding, but never think about --
what is it? Buckram? Glue-stiffened cloth,
says my dictionary; what ram is not
a buck? Doubly male, stiffened, binding.

Anyway, a proper book (perhaps it's "bookram" --
how many books did teachers ram
down our throats?) -- a book to which my friend
had glued (more glue) a tinted ink-sketch a la chinoise
(no, not "a la", for she IS Chinese)
of two spindly horses galloping
before low green hills across a gigantic
setting sun, surrounded by concentric ribbons
of itself, orange against a yellow sky --
signed lower right in English and Chinese;

between the book-rams, pages, 256 blank pages
(You're on number 151 now) for me to fill
with poetry. The book was itself,
content without content, as perfect as any
living room chair or kitchen appliance.
The pages were just pages, demanding nothing --
quick, when I removed my impeding fingers,
to close ranks, as neat in their blank uniforms
as any drill squad, aligned at the edges
into a fine-grained surface, a brick of paper
concealing its separate surfaces.

My handwriting is ugly, uneven, a cramped scrawl,
unworthy of such precision. If I must mess up
these pages, let it be in celebration
of their uniform blankness, lost, like the gleam
of soldiers on parade, as they straggle home
after a battering, rending
Borodino or Sebastopol or Waterloo.

(I do much of my reading to the sounds
of water in the loo.)

Note: I didn't pun the semblance of a bored Dean in Borodino. I spare you much. The gift, as noted in the Introduction, was from poet Hilary Tham Goldberg, who for some reason (per doctors, cancer) died less than a year later. This is mysterious: To give another poet a book of blank pages, then vanish. I hope I've done her gift justice. After all, it just is.

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