They caught him in the men’s room with a dictionary
of devils and demons, field guide to native flowers,
tucked in a canvas sack. The day after a thick-paged
slim history of the small town, hand-stitched, disappeared.
When a dictionary of saints went missing,
large as an atlas, with glued-in, colored plates
of human suffering, they suspected him as well.
The town social worker was checking on him weekly,
the way you might an empty house.
Soon, it was someone else, stealing biographies
— Ulysses S. Grant, William Wordsworth, Doris Day.
And then, yesterday’s paper, bound with a bamboo rod,
kept going and then a series of mysteries set in Maine.
I want to tell you that the library vanished,
but, of course, it was the people.
One grew too old to walk; the other went on to another home.
In the rooms, the unread books lay on their shelves
no hands to flip the frail pages or eyes
to stare at the glossy photographs, mid-history.
Each word glowed with dark, bleeding print,
like a boat in which you could float away.
Elizabeth Crowell holds a B.A. in English from Smith College and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Columbia University. She taught high school and college English for many years and currently lives outside Boston with her wife and two children. Her work has appeared in Nimrod, Atlanta Review, Doubletake, Feminist Studies, Paterson Literary Review, The Cortland Review, English Journal, Harpur’s Palate and many other fine journals.