A Book on a Shelf

By Roger Mitchell Roger Mitchell
A history of some sort, one that made us,
a war and what the war had meant, or since
meaning eludes war, what it did to the look
of the trees and the sides of the buildings,
most of which survived, only to be torn down
later to widen the street or put up a new
office complex. There it was on the shelf.
I was there only a moment, but still,
I wanted to know what happened to the man
in the photograph wearing a flat cap
standing outside the important building
cheering. He was there. He was part of that
moment, one of the first into the streets
when the turn of events came, the declaration
or pronouncement, words that would change
the look of everything he smiled on, words
that may have cost him his life. Here it is
in a book I found on a shelf. The person
who lives here bought it at a library
stock reduction sale. No one had read it.
It looked interesting thirty years ago.
It was practically new, the back uncracked.
But the person did what those before her had,
put it up on a shelf and never found
a way back to it. The history sits there,
unread, unbelievable, somebody else's.
Even I have only looked at the pictures,
at the man smiling between the cold pages.
Maybe ending the world as he knew it
was ok. Maybe it was the only way.
Maybe the world has to come to an end
in the first place to be the world. And the man?
He has to smile, though he knows so little
of what's coming, even looking right at it.
As we do, who still haven't read the book.

Source: Poetry (July 2003).

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This poem originally appeared in the July 2003 issue of Poetry magazine

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July 2003
 Roger  Mitchell

Biography

Roger Mitchell is the author of numerous books of poetry, including Letters from Siberia and Other Poems (1971), A Clear Space on a Cold Day (1986), Braid (1997), Delicate Bait (2003), which won the Akron Poetry Prize, and Lemon Peeled the Moment Before: New & Selected Poems 1967–2008 (2008). He has also published a work of nonfiction, Clear Pond: The Reconstruction of a Life (1991), which won the John Ben Snow Foundation Prize. . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Arts & Sciences, Reading & Books

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Poetic Terms Blank Verse

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