He came into the shop with a friend, but the friend abandoned him: she had books to find and a list in her hand.
He stood still at first and kept his hood on and his hands in his pockets and prepared to wait. But he looked at everything. And for so long and so carefully. Sometimes he bent forward, eyeing the spines and the titles, reading everything he could without picking them up. Then he looked at the shelves, from top to bottom, he leaned in and looked upward at the small roof of each cabinet. Once he put his face close to Pinocchio, seemingly intrigued with it, all by itself on one shelf. He stared at a cover of The Worst Band in the Universe for a long time.
I thought that I have never seen so close an examination of volumes and displays and walls in here, never such an intense scrutiny of covers and pictures and for such a long time.
He stopped at a little stone bird. It sits under an absurd small tree made of wire and glass and which hosts a poem called The Dipper.
The poem is printed out and lays underneath the tree and next to the bird and the blue and green and gold glass beads settle around them and it all goes unnoticed by everyone except small children who often ask: is it real. And I say that it is not real and they stand back, unimpressed by a tree that is not real.
This man leaned in and read the poem. He leaned over it for so long I though he must have read it eleven times. Then he examined the tree, the hanging glass drops that weep evenly around the poem and sometimes drop their beads or the gold leaves on the floor for no reason at all. He leaned over the rock, a real one, it embraces the base of the tree, holding still a nearly invisible idea.
He didn’t say anything, his attention was the song.
Then his friend returned with her book, The Post Birthday World by Lionel Shriver, and said: ok, I’m done.
He straightened up and they left and that was that.
It was winter, near freezing.
I’d walked through a forest of firs
when I saw issue out of the waterfall
a solitary bird.
It lit on a damp rock,
and, as water swept stupidly on,
wrung from its own throat
supple undammable song.
It isn’t mine to give
I can’t coax this bird to my hand
That knows the depth of the river
yet sings of it on land.