A family recipe, a childhood memory, a Depression-era handout
Subscribe and Save up to 55%
At the library
you can ask for a “lucky pick,”
meaning the librarian will choose
a novel for you based on what you tell her,
like blind dating or a toy
buried deep in the bottom of a box
of cereal, because there are still things
in life that might surprise us.
“What do you read normally?”
she asks me. Normally I would go
inside, search the titles on the spines,
tilting my head to read them.
I say, “William Trevor, Colm Tóibín,
Edna O’Brien, something with some weight
to it,” meaning no romances
of the kind that are not true
to the complications and unreliability of love.
She disappears into the dark
and sacred space of civilization
as I stand in the cold,
though I have a hat, I have warm gloves
and am lucky I am fed.
After some minutes she emerges
from the wheezing doors
of the old building
with two Russian novels,
pleased that she has done well,
that she listened and was trusted.
In each book is a story
where someone will be born,
someone will die or go to prison
or be poisoned by a lover —
the old Russian masters
cut to the heart
of the human spirit,
where any form of evil is possible,
though the librarian is kind
and one crocus has begun to bloom
in November on the path
to the parked cars
where a family is living in a van,
the windows covered with cardboard,
one tiny red mitten
lost in a field of frozen mud.