"At the Owl's Nest"

Michael Pacey 

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.