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For John Graves (Southwest Review; Spring, 2014)

Rob Jackson
Southwest Review

For John Graves

The books still lie sideways
on the books standing on the shelves,
but the chairs have dust-free silhouettes
where the hardbacks once were stacked,
and the dressers and tables are finally clear,
revealing letters from past years,
rusted snuffboxes, and a compass for drawing circles,
its rough-hewn pencil sharpened with a penknife.

Straightening them was easier than deciding
what to do with them all:
Lee’s first edition Mockingbird with the woodcut
oak on front, Henderson’s Artistry in Single Action,
celebrating the Grizzly six-shooter,
McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove in uncorrected proofs,
its cover yellow and severe like the Texas sands,
McCarthy’s The Crossing, with sepia skulls
staring out from the dust jacket.

I try to separate
the books by the ones to be kept.
When at last I find one to give away
I read the inscription, “For John Graves:
If I were stuck on a desert island
with 25 books, his would be at least three of them…”
and put it back.

I give in and lie on the office floor staring up
at the ceiling, where flaps of paint hang down
like the turned corners
of book pages. One shivers in the air from a fan,
then another.  The ceiling begins to shimmer
and flow like water, and the books start to float
in procession through the door, down the limestone steps
and into the draw that leads to the creek
that leads to the final river.
And the room stands silent and empty.

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