By Brian Culhane b. 1954 Brian Culhane

Paulatim lachrymas rerum experentia tersit.

Father’s books lying on the living-room floor
Must be divided into threes: art history,
Classical letters and, left from my days here,
Unsteady stacks of quasi-educational lore
That show yellowing Geographic scientists
Perennially lost in rain forest mists.
An instant choice will cull some from the rest
So they may become mine—a banausic test.

Prewar light glimmers in the apartment:
A shadowplay that summons an adolescence
Of slammed doors and risible nothings
Hurled at retreating parental backs
—The most telling blows always sotto voce
As I stormed and wept and read in silence.
Now, standing again in silence, I stare
At a word trove given two sons to share.

Some are dated in the first blank page: 1
January 1938 this reads, as if a resolution
Made (and kept?); this ruddy leather edition
States simply Property of—with no name given.
I gesture toward the emptiness of gifts
Prematurely bestowed in illness’s ruin
And blow dust off an enfeebled spine,
Filling lungs with belletristic grime.

It’s all some forgotten chore from a childhood
The hall mirror charitably declares was good.
Pictures of other libraries fill my head:
Weighty tomes I hauled to girlfriends’ walkups,
Barely unpacked before again in boxes;
Or Sophoclean dramas, lost to ancient fires,
Which exist in name only; or that fable
Of an infinitely circular Library of Babel

Borges saw as self-referential: nooks,
Corridors, dead ends, twisting stairwells:
Bibliographic cargo cults and infidels.
In his bed, dreaming of a golden age of looks
And cars, booze and fine clothes, my father snores
And chokes and comes to. . . . Sunlight pours
Into empty bookcases. Where in hell are they?!
If memory then corrects, questions stay

And, refracting off walls, gather numb force
As I read a volume plucked at random
Only to start up when hoarse ripples burn
My innermost ear: Where, where, where?
Soon my father will awaken to find no air.
One tattered cover shows a boy’s ray-gun
Pointed to the sun: the future, that much is clear.
Somewhere where this library can cohere.

Nearly finished, I stumble on Petrarch’s Epistles
And, apropos of age, find: In that passing, I shall
Not seem myself: another brow, other habits, a new form
Of the mind, another voice sounding. . . . Father whistles
Down the hallways for his lackadaisical firstborn.
Little by little, experience wipes dry our tears.
The job’s done—leaving me to calculate the years
I withheld my love, and the years I’ve left to mourn.

“Library” by Brian Culhane. Copyright 2008 by Brian Culhane. Reprinted from The King’s Question with permission from Graywolf Press.

Source: The King’s Question (Graywolf Press, 2008)

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Poet Brian Culhane b. 1954

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Subjects Family & Ancestors, Living, Relationships, Arts & Sciences, Reading & Books, Coming of Age, Philosophy, Activities, Indoor Activities

 Brian  Culhane


In 2007 Brian Culhane was the recipient of the Poetry Foundation’s Emily Dickinson First Book Award, a prize for a first collection by a poet over the age of 50. Of the book, The King’s Question (2008), A.E. Stallings wrote that Culhane “pays his readers that high and rare compliment of assuming them to be intelligent, grown-up, well-versed, lettered and humane.”
Culhane’s poems have appeared in a number of journals, . . .

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SUBJECT Family & Ancestors, Living, Relationships, Arts & Sciences, Reading & Books, Coming of Age, Philosophy, Activities, Indoor Activities

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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