This was back when meaning was trapped
in pebbled covers the color of his suit.
This was back when meaning
was the engine up the drive
and you had to shut the heavy book,
hoist it to the shelf before his feet
squeaked ink-black on the foyer tile.
Those long spines lined the wall—yes,
the press of their yellow smells,
pained creak when opened clean
and print small and closed as secrets
of the body, all the bones
whose terms he knew. Inside
they guarded the city he drove to,
charted the engine he steered
down morning streets, and flattened his clinic’s
beds and needs, disease gone gray
and red with root-word news
bound to diagrams,
sheeted still in Latin names. Nights
he came home to them. He’d stop
to drop his coins and keys, head level
with the brown stripe that crossed
their lettered backs and made them brothers.
You couldn’t reach when he was there,
but in the sprawling hours before
you could climb to pull one down and find
Q through S, hiss at pages
thin as breath, move your hands over
Sinew or Signs. Then he’d return,
forehead bent to their handsome gleam.
He’d hold envelopes to the lamp
and prop files against the phone.
He’d make calls and go back out again.
Later, you’d know more,
but back then he was a man
tall as a high shelf, which meant far,
then vanishing, the collar in the door.