They’re anonymous, passing the flock
of small clay owls in the doorway
with their boxes and bundles;
all winter, someone had been piecing off
their Nabokov: Pale Fire, Glory, Ada,
and then in the last cruel days of March
I discovered with a sigh
the long-sought Speak, Memory.
I pictured someone (elderly?) struggling
through the drifts, the hardbound volumes
in plastic shopping bags, as some wag said,
the accessories of the poor.
Up the three flights to the small shop,
his disintegrating library
(like the well-worn furniture
turned into February firewood)
weighed on the scales
and exchanged, no doubt, for little more
than a foxed Frank Yerby,
or a well-worn Frank Slaughter.
Paying for my latest find, I asked
who brought in all the Nabokov;
my only reply – an arched brow
and my chattering change.
But soon I started getting messages,
clues, stuffed in my mailbox:
a waterlogged copy of Great Expectations;
chapters ripped from an old edition
of Pilgrim’s Progress; pieces from jigsaw puzzles
began appearing in my backyard –
a handful more every day – scraps of trees or sky,
then a bit of ribbon and a girl’s hair,
the corner of her eye.
In spring the code ceased,
but simultaneously an unexpected harvest
started at the Owl’s Nest – one by one
the Singer I’d been longing for:
Shosha, Passions, The Magician of Lublin.
All through April and May
I skipped up and down the three flights, well, singing.
Source: Pacey, Michael. The First Step. Signature Editions, 2011.